The ‘good’ bacteria that live in your digestive tract and help digest your food are probiotics. Probiotics play an essential role in breaking down your food to utilize the nutrients needed in the body. Popular strains of probiotics include the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria groups and Bacillus, Saccharomyces, and Streptococcus.
Prebiotics are not living organisms but instead organic fibers that probiotic bacteria feed on. Prebiotic supplements support digestive health by nourishing the ‘good’ (probiotic) bacteria found in the digestive tract. Plant materials and other compounds – especially those rich in fiber – thus play an essential role in digestive health because they are vital for maintaining a good balance of probiotics in the digestive tract. Prebiotic fibers are not digestible and are not absorbed into the bloodstream: their function is to support the probiotic bacteria in the gut and add bulk to digestive contents so that digested food can pass easily through your system.
Some internal factors can affect the balance of digestive microbes, but diet makes the most difference.
Types of prebiotic fiber
This prebiotic consists of chains of galactose, a type of sugar found in human breast milk (among other places). The GOS found in prebiotic supplements is made in laboratories (i.e., does not require breast milk to be taken away from any babies who need it!) and is particularly effective in facilitating the growth of Bifidobacteria strains.
This prebiotic consists of naturally occurring sugars from fruits and vegetables. Chicory root, a common ingredient in many prebiotic supplements, is particularly rich in FOS – but bananas, onions, leeks, asparagus, and garlic are also natural sources of FOS.
Inulin is also made out of fructose molecules (like FOS) – but the chains of molecules formed in inulin are longer. Inulin can be easily obtained from a healthy diet since it is found in several foods, including onions and Jerusalem artichokes, among other fruits and vegetables.
Benefits of Prebiotics: What Does Science Say?
In the last few years, more people have been buying prebiotics than ever before. Many are convinced that their prebiotics are directly responsible for their improvements in their digestive function, immune function, and weight loss.
There is good reason to think they may be right. Trillions of bacteria live in the bodies of all human beings – at least as many bacteria as there are cells in the body, and quite possibly many more. But suppose the bacteria in your gut proliferate disproportionately or start dying off for any reason. In that case, they will no longer be able to play a crucial role in your digestive system.
Suppose you need to be treated with specific antibiotics, for example. In that case, those medications may kill off not only the infection in your system but also the good bacteria your body needs. As a result, you are likely to experience diarrhea or other adverse abdominal symptoms. In such a case, you must restore the balance as quickly as possible with a good combination of trusted prebiotics and probiotics.
In less severe cases, people with not-so-good gut health tend not to have such healthy skin or immune systems as those with excellent gut health. A healthy digestive system enhances immune function and can even reduce the risk of contracting certain diseases.
Recent Research on Prebiotics
For example, in 2016, Baştürk, Artan & Yılmaz published a study in the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology (available for free from the authors’ Researchgate page). They tested the effects of various supplements on children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Of the 71 children in the study (aged from 4-16 years old, diagnosed with IBS), the first group received prebiotic and probiotic treatment; the second group received probiotic treatment only, and the third group received prebiotic treatment only.
The group which received prebiotic treatment only did not show significant improvement. Still, the group that received probiotic treatment showed a reduction in several of their symptoms by the end of the study. The group which received probiotics and prebiotics contained the highest number of patients who fully recovered from all their symptoms by the end of the study.
A 2011 study published in Nutrition Research involved a group of 100 healthy but overweight adults. The participants were randomly assigned either to the experimental groups, who received various doses of prebiotic fiber or to the control group, who did not receive any prebiotic. The study showed that the group who received the prebiotic experienced significantly increased feelings of satiety (that is, feeling ‘full’ after eating) and took substantially longer to get hungry again after each meal. This is the primary mechanism by which taking prebiotic supplements could genuinely be said to produce weight loss.
Seeing that obesity is one of the top factors leading to chronic disease and disability, anything that could help prevent obesity (such as taking prebiotic supplements) could be expected to impact healthcare worldwide significantly. This study investigated the effects of one particular type of dietary fiber/prebiotic on feelings of satiety. Still, since relatively few studies have been done in this area, there is scope to investigate whether other types of fibers/prebiotics have similar effects.
Because different groups of people, with their different lifestyles, may have additional dietary requirements, it is instructive to conduct research specifically on various groups and see whether prebiotics works in similar ways in all groups. Tucker & Thomas (2009) studied a group of women to see if their total fiber intake affected their risk of gaining weight (in terms of body fat). They also wanted to see what effects the participants’ age, energy intake, energy output, and even season of the year would have on how effective the fiber supplements would be.
The women were assessed at the beginning of the study and again 20 months later. The authors found that increasing their dietary fiber intake significantly reduced the women’s risk of gaining weight/fat, regardless of their ages, energy usage, seasons of the year, etc. They noted that the fiber seemed to have this effect by reducing the women’s energy intake (i.e., calories consumed) over time. In other words, the women tended to eat less because they felt fuller.
Wilson et al. (2019), in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, investigated the effects of prebiotics in adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other functional bowel disorders (FBDs). They did not conduct their own trials but rather analyzed several other studies conducted into this question. Overall, they found that the reviewed studies did not show that prebiotics had a significant effect in improving the symptoms of these disorders.
However, one of the symptoms under consideration, namely, flatulence, was decreased by supplementation with specific prebiotics. Prebiotics were also found to increase the absolute abundance of bifidobacteria in the gut. Although the results of this study seem a bit disappointing to those who continue to hope that prebiotic supplements could play an essential role in improving digestive health and decreasing obesity, it must be remembered that in extensive statistical analyses, it may be challenging to identify minor effects or effects that only occur in specific conditions.
Side effects of prebiotics
Since most prebiotics are naturally found in many everyday foods that people regularly eat anyway, taking prebiotic supplements is not very different from eating such foods. So the side effects of taking prebiotics resemble what we might call ‘the side effects of eating.’
As with any food, moderation is essential. Overeating of anything could overwhelm your digestive system, leading to bloating, constipation, or general digestive discomfort. Likewise, consuming vast quantities of prebiotics could lead to any of these or similar symptoms. In any case, consuming more significant amounts of probiotics does not necessarily give you larger beneficial effects, so you might as well not overdo it.
Ranking Criteria for the Top Prebiotics
We used eight criteria to rank some of the top prebiotics on the market this year:
We ranked supplements more highly when they included ingredients that have been proven beneficial to digestive health.
We not only gave preference to products containing science-backed ingredients but also, especially, to those containing science-backed dosages of those ingredients. It is not usually very effective to include so many ingredients that only a tiny amount of each is provided to have so much of a single ingredient that other essential ingredients are neglected.
Variety of Prebiotics
This is the other side of the coin of ‘effective dosages’ (above). Supplements with very high dosages of a single ingredient risk not including enough of a range of ingredients. We assumed that products should include two or more different types of probiotics to strike a happy medium between the two extremes.
Ease of use
Many prebiotics are presented in powder form, which is usually mixed with liquid or sprinkled on food. Still, there are certain situations where it might not be convenient to ingest your prebiotic in this form. Some people might prefer to take their prebiotics in tablet or capsule form – quick and easy to get down with only a few swallows of water from your water bottle while on the go. So, the structure of the presentation of the prebiotics was also something we checked.
This is a ranked list of prebiotic supplements, but it is also sensible to pay attention to other ingredients each one contains to evaluate them fairly. Thus, we mentioned any particularly beneficial complementary ingredients in these products, and they were a consideration when determining our rankings.
Price (and Value-for-money)
The prebiotics in this guide range from cheap to reasonably pricey because everybody needs to balance their budget. However, listing prices only would not always allow you to compare the products fairly, which is why we also emphasized how much value you could expect to get for your outlay.
Manufacturer Reputation and Transparency
The reputation of a supplement manufacturer is one of the factors to be considered when assessing their products – but finding out whether or not the manufacturer is willing to state their details or the sources of their ingredients can also be informative. Somebody who goes to a lot of trouble to avoid revealing their physical location, ingredients, or procurement and production processes may easily have something to hide.
Organic Certification and Ingredient Sources
If ingredients have been certified as organic, you can be sure that they have been grown without the use of hormone therapy, harmful pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers. Organic ingredients are better for your health and better for the environment, the ecosystem, and the planet. This was an essential consideration for us when deciding how to rank the supplements.
Top Prebiotic Supplements in 2021
Although obviously, all prebiotic products claim to support gut health to some extent, they differ regarding how many of the different prebiotics they contain and whether or not they contain various complementary ingredients. But so many different types of prebiotics can be found on the shelves today that finding the right one for you can be a daunting task.
That’s why we reviewed fourteen of the top prebiotics – keep reading, and you’ll find out more about how we ranked the different products, the clinical benefits of prebiotics, possible side effects, dosage guidelines, and frequently asked questions.
At $49.95 for 8.36 oz/237g, this product is not one of the cheapest prebiotics out there – but it is one of the most popular. It is presented as a powder that can easily be mixed with water or juice or sprinkled over your morning muesli.
While other prebiotics often contain only one fiber source (hence their lower price), Peak BioBoost includes four. In addition, this supplement contains several other nutrients, all of which help with general gut health and bowel function – thereby facilitating the maintenance of a healthy weight and optimal energy utilization. It is also one of the few prebiotics to be formulated by a doctor.
HyperBiotics Prebiotic sells for $26 for 13.23 oz/375g – making it not only one of the best prebiotics of 2021 but also one of the cheapest. Presented in powder form, it contains only certified organic ingredients (including acacia fiber and Jerusalem artichoke) and no synthetic compounds at all. HyperBiotics Prebiotic is fully organic, as certified by the USDA.
Daily Greens ($39.95 for 30 scoops) is a cleanse and detox formula that not only supports gut health but is also packed with nutrients. It contains fruit and plant extracts (alfalfa leaf, wheatgrass, spinach, spirulina, beet, cucumber, and broccoli) and vitamin and mineral supplements. All ingredients are fully organic, as well as entirely vegetarian.
In addition to being great for gut health, this supplement can help boost energy, burn fat, and provide immune support. It truly deserves the designation ‘superfood’.
1MD Complete Probiotics Platinum
At $43.99 for 30 capsules, 1MD Complete Probiotics Platinum is another all-around winner. In addition to the prebiotic Nutraflora, it contains 11 critical probiotic strains. It is doctor-formulated and delivers its contents in a delayed-release format for optimal absorption.
Gundry MD Prebio Thrive
This product will set you back a whopping $79 for 10.6oz (300g) – but the benefits may be proportionately high. Many people would be willing to pay the price for improved bowel movements and generally more comfortable digestive processes.
GundryMD’s PrebioThrive contains multiple sources of fiber, including (but not limited to) the usual galacto-oligosaccharides, acacia gum, guar gum, agave inulin, and flaxseed. These ingredients are presented as a flavorless powder – ideal for mixing with water, juice, or any other beverage or food.
ActivatedYou Morning Complete
Here we have another $79 product (for 8oz/228g) – but ActivatedYou Morning Complete can legitimately claim to offer value for money. It contains not only prebiotics and probiotics but also superfoods such as spinach (and kale) for maximum nutritional value; bitter melon extract (and turmeric), for metabolism and weight loss; Gymnema Sylvestre leaf (which supports your liver and enhances cellular function); and, of course, plenty of dietary fiber.
Unlike most prebiotic supplements, which are colorless and tasteless, you can buy one of three flavors of Gut Power. Try a variety pack with all three flavors, or buy your favorite flavor individually. The flavors are derived from (organic) cocoa, coffee, or matcha, and the products contain no sweeteners, artificial flavors, or fillers.
Gut Power contains the probiotic Bacillus coagulans, the prebiotic Sunfiber – it even delivers your morning caffeine boost (100, 50, or 10mg in the coffee, cocoa, and matcha flavors, respectively)!
Gundry MD Bio Complete 3
120 Gundry MD Bio Complete 3 capsules will set you back $69.95. For that price, you can expect to enjoy effortless weight loss, increased energy, and improved digestion (which can also combat food cravings that make it hard to stay healthy). The active ingredients are tributyrin (CoreBiome), Sunfiber extract, and ProDURA (containing Bacillus coagulans).
You can’t sprinkle the capsules over your food, but capsules can be more convenient for swallowing on the go.
Performance Lab Prebiotic
This product from Performance Lab is also presented in the form of capsules – 90 for $39. That seems like a pretty good price, but don’t be misled: Performance Lab recommends three capsules before a meal, once or even twice daily, so you can expect to work your way through your 90 capsules at a somewhat alarming rate.
However, the benefit of smaller capsules is that they are easy to swallow. Performance Lab capsules are made from 100% organic (plant) materials, enriched with Inulin-FOS extracted from chicory root.
Biohm Prebiotic Supplement
You need two of these capsules a day – which means a 60-capsule bottle, at $23.99, will last you a month – which is excellent value for money. But Biohm is not a cheap and nasty second-rate product: it is also one of the top prebiotics on the market.
This supplement contains the prebiotic fibers inulin and apple pectin and the digestive enzymes peptidase and lipase. These enzymes further help to break down digestive contents smoothly and efficiently.
JustThrive Precision Prebiotic
You can buy 150g of JustThrive’s tropical-flavored Precision Prebiotic for $49.99. This product promises to increase the population of your (‘good’) digestive bacteria by more than 100%. It contains several types of digestive fiber and simple, organic sugars (like those derived from fruits).
Just Thrive assures you that if you take its Precision Prebiotic together with its Probiotic product, you can more than double the population of digestive bacteria in your gut. They also provide a 100% money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with your purchase at the end of 30 days.
Natural Synergy PreMaxPro
This supplement combines prebiotics and probiotics in a single formula slightly on the pricey side (60 vegetable capsules for $69.95). Moreover, for those wishing to improve their understanding of issues relating to digestive health, PreMaxPro is a great choice – it comes with free health-related eBooks as part of its promotional offer. Now that’s something you don’t see with every product!
PreMaxPro employs bacteriophages – that is, viruses that kill bacteria – to kill off ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut while replenishing and supporting ‘good’ bacteria.
GoDaily is available online and comes in powder form ($47.97). This product is ideal for people with food allergies, as it contains no lactose, gluten, soy, or several other ingredients people are commonly allergic to.
The formula is an ancient Japanese secret, but all its ingredients are 100% natural. It contains the compound FOS (found in Blue Agave and Yacon Root), which promotes gut health by nourishing digestive probiotics; nopal powder, which combats constipation; psyllium husk, which prevents bloating; Jerusalem Artichoke, which is a prebiotic; and ‘Tears of Chios’ – a traditional super-ingredient that the Chinese value for its antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also known to decrease the levels of lipids in the blood.
Routine for Her
Each capsule contains a substantial dose of both prebiotics and probiotics, presented in the form of a delayed-release capsule.
At $29.99 per month, Routine is somewhat difficult to compare directly with other prebiotics or probiotics because it is explicitly aimed at female consumers. This product delivers the usual benefits like improved gut health, enhanced digestion, and weight maintenance: it is also indicated for helping combat vaginal thrush by improving digestion.
The company is committed to sustainability and packs its products in recycled boxes; the formula comes in a reusable glass jar.
Prebiotic Supplements FAQs
Q: What is a prebiotic supplement?
A: Prebiotic supplements contain indigestible organic fibers, often presented in the form of a powder.
Q: How do prebiotic supplements work?
A: Prebiotic supplements provide the organic fibers that digestive bacteria require for their nourishment – and providing nutrition for digestive bacteria, in turn, enables these bacteria to do their job of breaking down the food in your digestive tract.
Q: Can I get enough prebiotics in my diet without using supplements?
A: Yes, getting enough prebiotic fiber from food is possible, especially fruit and vegetables. However, if you have any specific health concerns – for example, if you suffer from IBS or regularly take certain medications, etc. – you may struggle to get all the prebiotics you need from food alone.
Q: How do prebiotic and probiotic supplements differ?
A: Probiotics are the living microbes in your gut, while prebiotics are the organic fibers these microbes consume to survive. Probiotic supplements contain live specimens of digestive microbes, whereas prebiotic supplements contain only the organic fibers the microbes feed.
Q: Are prebiotics or probiotics more beneficial to gut health?
A: Both prebiotics and probiotics are essential to healthy digestive processes. If the population of digestive bacteria in your gut has been depleted for any reason, you will need a probiotic supplement. If your diet is lacking in the right kinds of fiber, you will need a prebiotic supplement. But in most cases, you won’t know exactly whether your gut is short on digestive bacteria or your diet is short on fiber unless you try both supplements and see what works best for you.
Q: Is it a good idea to take both prebiotic and probiotic supplements?
A: It is certainly safe to do so, and in fact, taking both types of supplements might well produce double the benefits you’d get from taking either one or the other. But if you want to be sure exactly which supplement is having which results, it might be a good idea to try taking each on its own as well.
Q: How do I choose the right prebiotic supplement?
A: It’s difficult to say whether anyone’s prebiotic supplement is ‘the best’ supplement available or ‘the right’ supplement for you – but feel free to refer to the product list below to help you make your choice.
Q: How can I expect to benefit from taking a prebiotic supplement?
A: Prebiotic supplements promote digestive health; good digestive health, in turn, has many benefits, including improved immune function, improved skin health, and suppression of excessive feelings of hunger/cravings.
Q: What about weight loss? Do prebiotics help?
A: Taking prebiotic supplements does not lead to weight loss directly but can facilitate weight loss by controlling appetite/cravings and helping the body metabolize more quickly and efficiently.
Q: How do I know if I need to take digestive supplements?
A: Abdominal bloating or discomfort (especially after meals), diarrhea or constipation, excessive flatulence, increased appetite or cravings, and disproportionate weight gain can all indicate that your gut bacteria are in bad shape. The great thing about these supplements is that there is virtually no risk in taking them unless taken in really significant excess. The one reliable way of determining that your gut health is poor is taking some supplements: if your symptoms improve, you can tell that those elements were probably lacking in your body.
Q: Does flatulence indicate good or bad gut health?
A: Gas is expelled by bacteria in the digestive tract when your food is broken down and digested, so a little bit of gas is standard. However, if you experience excessive flatulence, it might be a sign that all is not well with your digestive bacteria. In this case, a pre- (or pro-) biotic supplement might help.
Q: How does dietary fiber help with digestion?
A: ‘Dietary fiber’ refers to the challenging, indigestible portion of foods (especially fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.) that is not broken down at all by the body’s digestive processes. Although no nutrients are absorbed from this fiber, it plays a significant role in the digestive process because it adds bulk to other waste products. Fiber enables digestive waste to pass easily along the digestive tract and out of the body.
Q: How do I know if I need more fiber in my diet?
A: As many as 95% of Americans need more fiber than they already get in their diets. The more processed food you eat, the more likely you are not getting enough fiber. Even if you eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, you can’t control the way they have been grown or stored before they reach your table, which means they may not have nearly as much fiber in them as you might expect. Supplementing with prebiotics carries virtually no risk, and it might just benefit you, so why not try it and see?
Q: If I want to get my prebiotics from my diet, what foods do I need to incorporate?
A: The best sources of fiber are fruits and vegetables, bread and cereals, and nuts and seeds. Usually, you can tell which foods are very fibrous: they will have a tough or stringy texture. Often, the more processed a particular food is, the less fiber will remain in that food. For example, brown bread is tougher and grainier than white bread, and this is because of its higher fiber content.
Top Prebiotic Supplements in 2021 Final thoughts
What a cliché it is to say ‘you are what you eat’! – but clichés only get to be clichés in the first place by being genuine. It may not be strictly necessary to buy prebiotic supplements as long as you eat a healthy diet, but eating a healthy diet is not always easy to do in today’s world. Because most food is produced on such a large scale and often stored for a long time, its nutritional content can be relatively low by the time it reaches your table.
For instance, everyone knows that citrus fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C. Still, actually, if a strain of oranges is genetically modified to help it resist disease or repel pests, then sprayed with pesticides while growing, then the oranges are kept in cold storage for weeks before reaching the point of sale, the orange you finally buy may contain no vitamin C whatsoever!
Plus, fruit and veg are selectively bred or genetically modified to be large and visually appealing because that’s what sells. Smaller, imperfect-looking specimens are not chosen, even if their nutrient content is high, so the more demand there is for ‘perfect’ fruit and veg, the less the fruit and veg are likely to deliver on fiber. There is probably no reliable way to determine whether you are getting as much fiber as you need – so why not try one of the top prebiotic supplements and see if it makes any difference to you. You have nothing to lose and potentially much to gain.
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Please understand that any advice or guidelines revealed here are not even remotely a substitute for sound medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider. Make sure to consult with a professional physician before making any purchasing decision if you use medications or have concerns following the review details shared above. Individual results may vary as the statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.