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What are prebiotics?

Last updated: October-30,2020

What are prebiotics?

"Don't you mean probiotics?"


We're here today to talk about prebiotics - the unsung heroes and risings stars of the dietary supplement scene. Commonly overshadowed by their famous nutraceutical cousins, probiotics, these powerful fibers have the potential to be the ideal companions for digestive support and more.

First given their formal name and classification in the 1990s, prebiotics were defined as "non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, thus improving host health."1

By 2010, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics broadened the definition to "[...]ingredients that result in specific changes, in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health."2;

It's important to note that even though prebiotics are classified as fibers, not all fibers are prebiotic. In order to be classified as prebiotic, a fiber needs to meet a specific set of criteria.

Not unlike many high-fiber foods, the prebiotic fibers found in certain supplement formulations and naturally in certain vegetables (like onions, garlic, and dandelion greens) provide their potential benefits by passing through the digestive system without being broken down.

How popular are prebiotics and prebiotic supplements?

Over the course of the last year, prebiotics have garnered more and more industry and consumer attention. Along with being a prevalent topic in industry magazines, prebiotics were overwhelmingly present on the exhibition floor of this year's Natural Products Expo West tradeshow.

According to Google Trends, overall user interest has skyrocketed back in December of 2017 and has remained fairly consistent through 2018, to date.

This increased consumer interest has translated to a surge of functional food, dietary supplement, and other products featuring prebiotics front and center.

Popular Ways to Incorporate Prebiotics into Your Dietary Supplement Formulations

Unlike their probiotic cousins, prebiotics can prove easier to manufacture with thanks to their shelf stability. This stability and their typically plant-based or derived origins have also made them ideal for a wide variety of powdered and encapsulated formulations.

In today's marketplace, it's not uncommon to see prebiotics paired with...

  • Probiotic Blends
  • Greens Blends
  • Digestive Support Formulations
  • Immune Support Formulations

Deciding how you want to incorporate prebiotics into your next supplement blend is all about two things: Knowing your audience and knowing your science (i.e. doing your homework to determine if prebiotics are the right ingredient for meeting your customers needs.)

Related Reading: How strong is the global demand for probiotics?


1. Gibson GR Roberfroid MB Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics. J Nutr. 1995;125:1401–12.2. Gibson GR Scott KP Rastall RA Tuohy KM Hotchkiss A Dubert-Ferrandon A Gareau M Murphy EF Saulnier D Loh Get al. Dietary prebiotics: current status and new definition. Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods. 2010;7:1–19.

May 3rd, 2018

About the Author:

Gene Bruno

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG) - Mr. Bruno possesses over 43 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a Master's degree in nutrition and a second Master's degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Corporation and Professor of Nutraceutical Science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.