The difference lies more in the nature and mode of action of these products. Probiotics are living bacteria or yeasts which, when administered in adequate quantities, have a beneficial effect on health. Highlighted by the first “active bifidus” introduced in yogurts, they are the most well-known category among the general public. They are also the most used, as it is not uncommon to be prescribed probiotics based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae to rebalance intestinal or vaginal flora that has been disrupted by antibiotic treatment.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, refer to compounds that microorganisms feed on. Some of them are naturally present in food, such as fibers (in fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.) or polyphenols (in wine, red fruits, etc.). But it is also possible to consume others in the form of dietary supplements. For example, certain yeast cell walls are appreciated by the “good” bacteria in our intestines, which transform them by fermentation into molecules beneficial to health. These include butyrate, a molecule that helps to modulate the immune response and limit inflammation of the intestinal wall, or propionate, an element that could have a positive effect on metabolism. Of course, it is possible to combine a prebiotic and a probiotic, with the former enhancing the action of the latter by providing it with the food it needs. This is known as a synbiotic.
The term “postbiotics” refers to all or part of a microorganism that has been inactivated. Yeast cell walls used as prebiotics are part of this category, as well as certain probiotic bacteria that, once inactivated, still have benefits to offer. This allows one to overcome the constraints of conservation that are impossible to meet in certain regions (hot and humid countries, etc.). It can also be a way of controlling a pathogen and using it, like a vaccine, to educate intestinal immune cells.
At Lesaffre, Gnosis by Lesaffre offers probiotics (yeasts, bacteria) dedicated to various applications such as intestinal health, immunity… and specific populations. For example, Quatreflora™ has clinically demonstrated its effectiveness for women. This yeast strain can be used as an adjuvant therapy for conventional treatment or for the prevention of intimate health problems during a vaginal infection.
With their expertise in microorganisms, the company has naturally expanded their knowledge to prebiotics. In 2022, a new prebiotic was launched: Lynside® Immunity Prebiotic. “This is the walls of a patented strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, which has been shown to stimulate, even at low doses (500 mg to 1g/day), the dominant family of bacteria in our gut flora,” explains Clarisse Geraci, prebiotics product manager at Gnosis by Lesaffre. The innovation lies in its personalized action. Indeed, the composition of the intestinal microbiota can differ from one individual to another. While other prebiotics on the market target a particular group of bacteria (such as lactobacilli), this one adapts to each microbiota, consolidating the base of its bacterial population to strengthen its ability to protect the body.”
Except for immunocompromised individuals or those with sensitive intestines, consuming prebiotics, like probiotics, is safe. “In case of overdose, there may be digestive discomfort due to excessive fermentation, as when consuming too much fiber-rich food, says Bertrand Rodriguez, biotic innovation manager within Gnosis by Lesaffre’s R&D department. For probiotics, there is also a risk of product inefficiency if the preparation and storage conditions have not been respected or if the tablet or final food does not contain the recommended dose of microorganisms. That is why we offer support to our customers for the formulation and encapsulation of their products, efficacy testing, or writing usage instructions on their packaging”. But again, health is not at risk.
Yeasts and bacteria still offer a vast field to explore, both to improve our digestive and mental well-being and to strengthen our immune system. Players in the industry are heavily invested in the development of the ferments of the future, those that allow for new fermented foods without additives and preservatives, but also those that will compose new functional foods. “We are already considering the development of functional foods, such as biscuits, cereals or fruit juices enriched with pro- and/or prebiotics,” confirms Bertrand Rodriguez.
Animals also have their "biotics"
Specialized in animal health and nutrition, Phileo by Lesaffre offers a range of probiotics and prebiotics. For example, the Microsaf® bacteria mix is beneficial for the digestive health of poultry, while the Safmannan® and Safglucan® yeast walls strengthen their immune system, thus limiting the use of antibiotics in breeding.