Synbiotics: Unlocking the Synergistic Relationship Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

January 13, 2024 6 min read

Synbiotics: Unlocking the Synergistic Relationship Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Your gut is home to trillions of tiny microbes, that together make up the gut microbiota. This community of microorganisms, consisting of a combination of bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi, and protozoa, are pivotal for maintaining your overall health and wellbeing. But they can’t do it alone.

Health-boosting microbes, known as probiotics, require nourishment to help them thrive and unleash their powerful potential. So, the spotlight has been on the synergistic relationship between probiotics and prebiotics, and how together, their influential marriage, stimulates a balanced and thriving ecosystem within the gut. And that’s what we’ll be exploring in this article. 

The gut microbiome revisited

Before we delve into the depths of science, we should first recap the gut microbiome and the role of prebiotics and probiotics. 

The terms ‘microbiota’ and ‘microbiome’ are often used interchangeably but there are distinct differences between the two.

Microbiotadescribes all the living organisms within a specified environment, in this case, the gut.

Microbiomeis the collection of microbial genomes within the environment. So not just the microbes themselves, but their structural elements, metabolites, and environmental conditions, the lot[i].

The diverse mixture of microorganisms residing in the gut are vital for proper digestion, and extracting and absorbing nutrients, but also for your wider health, such as:

  •  Immunity
  • Metabolism
  • Mood
  • Lowering inflammation
  • Joint health
  • Allergy protection

Keeping the balance within this sensitive environment is key, and that’s where probiotics and prebiotics have a major role to play.

 The role of probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that when taken in large enough amounts induce health benefits[ii]. They mainly consist of bacteria - some well-publicised and researched probiotics are part of the Bifidobacteriaor Lactobacillusgenus.

Probiotics are naturally present in fermented foods, including: 

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yoghurt

They are also available as dietary supplements. These beneficial bacterial strains can help to restore and maintain balance within the microbiota by stimulating the growth of ‘good’ microbes and limiting the growth of ‘bad’ types.

The role of prebiotics

To exert their benefits, probiotics require sustenance, just like humans, to grow and thrive. Prebiotics, or indigestible fibres, are the food source for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

By taking probiotics, either as a supplement or via fermented foods, you’ll be helping to seed your gut environment with health-promoting microbes, while prebiotics work to stimulate their growth and activity, and build an optimal environment in which they can thrive.

How do prebiotics work?

Prebiotics occur naturally in many foods, including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and even human milk. Because they are an energy source for gut microbes, they can modulate the gut environment.

They travel to the colon, undigested, where bacteria get to work breaking them down through a process of fermentation. This transforms the fibre into beneficial metabolites, like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and vitamins.

It’s these metabolites, often referred to as postbiotics, that are important for maintaining gut health. For example, butyrate is the primary energy source for the cells that line your gut, strengthening their integrity and influencing a robust barrier between the gut and the rest of the body.

 Common examples of prebiotics



Agave, asparagus, bananas, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, onion


Artichoke, asparagus, banana, chicory, garlic, onion, yacon root


Beans, chickpeas, lentils

Human milk oligosaccharides

2’-fucosyllactose (2’fl), lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT), 3-siallylactose (3’-sl), 6’-siallylactose (6’-sl)


What are synbiotics?

The individual health benefits of both probiotics and prebiotics are well recognised and have led scientists to explore the combined potential of both. Synbiotics, as they are more commonly known, have been recently defined as:

“a mixture comprising live micro-organisms and substrate(s) selectively utilised by host micro-organisms that confers a health benefit on the host”[iii].

The term synbiotic comes from the fact that the combination of pre- and probiotics work synergistically to positively affect gut microbes.

What do synbiotics do?

Synbiotics are an attractive alternative to taking probiotics and prebiotics separately as they work together to promote the health of your gut microbiome in one supplement.

They contain live bacteria strains (probiotics) and a suitable food source (prebiotic) to help nourish the good bacteria once it reaches the gut. Synbiotics were originally developed to help probiotics survive the transit to the colon.

Did you know?At Layer Origin, we have developed our own PureHMO® Synbiotic comprising 10 probiotic bacteria strains and the human milk oligosaccharide, 2’-Fucosyllactose (2’-FL).

The health benefits of synbiotics

Whether you prefer to combine prebiotics and probiotics or have chosen a manufactured synbiotic, let’s explore their benefits.

Improved viability and survival

By combining prebiotics and probiotics, you could be increasing the viability of the live bacteria you are consuming. Probiotic supplements may have difficulty transitioning through the upper section of your gastrointestinal tract because the stomach is an acidic and hostile environment.

Synbiotics, however, could improve the survival of the probiotics via the inclusion of prebiotics, boosting their effect on the colon[iv]. Thus, prebiotics exert a protective effect on probiotics, which means you can reap their benefits when they arrive, unharmed, in your gut.

Enhanced synergistic benefits

The combination of probiotics and prebiotics, forming synbiotics, may have enhanced benefits for your health. For example, a study by Rowland et al. (1998) found that the combination of Bifidobacterium longum was associated with potentially beneficial changes to the physiology of the caecum in animals. The combination was seen to be more effective in reducing colonic lesions, thus conferring a potential anti-carcinogenic benefit of these two products when taken together[v].

Supporting gut microbiome diversity

Synbiotics can influence the overall diversity and composition of the gut, helping to prevent dysbiosis.This is important because the microbial community in your gut is strongly influenced by the environment, including factors such as:

  • Diet
  • Stress
  • Physical activity
  • Medication

What is dysbiosis?

Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the bacterial composition, alteration in metabolic activities of bacteria or changes in bacterial distribution throughout the gut[vi].

The changes that arise from an imbalanced gut can contribute to a huge array of health problems, starting with inflammation which can be problematic throughout the body.

Some of the health issues associated with dysbiosis are:

But what can we do to restore balance in our gut?

Can synbiotics restore balance?

The secret to the success of synbiotics can be attributed to the synergistic relationship between prebiotics and probiotics. Together, they work to promote a diverse and thriving bacterial community.

A study by Hong et al. (2021) investigated the effect of synbiotics in dysbiosis-induced mice models, with the restorative effect tested using Escherichia coliK99. They used a new formulation, called nanoprebiotics containing phthalyl pullulan nanoparticles (PPNs), in combination with probiotics like Lactobacillus plantarum.

The results showed that in the group assigned the synbiotic, the E-coliinfection was suppressed, and the blood level of endotoxin was reduced, suggesting the gut barrier had been reinforced.

The study also showed that following treatment with the synbiotics, the gut microbiome was diversified and within healthy parameters. This was further enhanced by the enrichment of several probiotic species, like:

Overall, the study demonstrated that synbiotics containing PPNs were effective at restoring balance in a gut affected by dysbiosis, reducing pathogenic infection, and increasing microbial diversity[vii].

Further ways synbiotics restore balance

Synbiotics offer a multifaceted approach to restoring balance in the gut, including:

  • Nourishing the inhabitants of the gut microbiome and stimulating colonisation
  • Increased production of SCFAs
  • Strengthening the gut barrier
  • Additive benefits such as stimulating the growth and activity of beneficial species


As we have seen synbiotics are a powerful string to the gut health bow. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics are a promising approach to gut health maintenance and enhancement, thanks mainly to their synergistic relationship.

There is sufficient scientific evidence available to suggest that synbiotics can modulate the gut microbiome composition for the better and that these benefits may extend beyond the gut.

Are you interested in restoring balance in your gut? Looking for a potent prebiotic to pair with a probiotic? Our PureHMO® range has got you covered. 

Written byLeanne Edermaniger, M.Sc. Leanne is a professional science writer who specializes in human health and enjoys writing about all things related to the gut microbiome. 


[i] Hou, K., Wu, ZX., Chen, XY. et al. Microbiota in health and diseases. Sig Transduct Target Ther 7, 135 (2022).

[ii] Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G. et al. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 11, 506–514 (2014).

[iii] Hancocks N. International panel of scientists agree what makes a “synbiotic” [Internet]. William Reed Ltd; 2020 [cited 2023 Dec 18]. Available from:

[iv] Roberfroid MB. Prebiotics and probiotics: Are they functional foods? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;71(6). doi:10.1093/ajcn/71.6.1682s

[v] Rowland I. Effect of Bifidobacterium Longum and inulin on gut bacterial metabolism and carcinogen-induced aberrant crypt foci in rats. Carcinogenesis. 1998;19(2):281–5. doi:10.1093/carcin/19.2.281

[vi] DeGruttola AK, Low D, Mizoguchi A, Mizoguchi E. Current Understanding of Dysbiosis in Disease in Human and Animal Models. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2016 May;22(5):1137-50. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0000000000000750. PMID: 27070911; PMCID: PMC4838534.

[vii] Hong L, Lee SM, Kim WS, Choi YJ, Oh SH, Li YL, Choi SH, Chung DH, Jung E, Kang SK, Cho CS. Synbiotics Containing Nanoprebiotics: A Novel Therapeutic Strategy to Restore Gut Dysbiosis. Front Microbiol. 2021 Aug 12;12:715241. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.715241. PMID: 34475865; PMCID: PMC8406803.

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