The history of the synbiotic concept

Scientists Gibson and Roberfroid coined the term ‘synbiotic’ in 1995 to refer to a combination of a probiotic and a prebiotic.

In 2019, a group of scientists under the auspices of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) met to update the definition and applications of synbiotics. This new definition of synbiotics follows the previous revisions to the definitions for probiotics (2014) and prebiotics (2017).

The result is a new definition of synbiotics, described as “a mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrate(s) selectively utilized by host microorganisms* that confers a health benefit on the host”.

As scientists have come to consider that a synbiotic is not simply a combination of a probiotic and a prebiotic, two types of synbiotics have emerged:

  • Complementary synbiotics: both the probiotic and prebiotic components of the synbiotic work independently to achieve health benefits. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit. Prebiotics are food for your gut microbiota. For example, nearly all synbiotics available commercially are in the complementary form.
  • Synergistic synbiotics: both the probiotic and prebiotic work as a team to confer a health benefit. An example of a synergistic synbiotic could be a combination of a beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus species and its preferred food such as lactose (the most abundant sugar in milk) that supports selectively its growth rather than promoting all the beneficial members of the gut microbiota. Both the probiotic bacteria and the prebiotic work together (not independently) to confer a health benefit.


What can synbiotics do for you?

Synbiotics’ health benefits are not limited to your gut health, as they can target areas of your body outside of the gut, such as the skin.

The panel of experts that set the new definition of synbiotics explain that orally administered complementary synbiotics have been shown in human trials to aid in metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, diarrhea and atopic dermatitis, among others.


Synbiotics in practice

Synbiotics are more present in your daily than you probably imagine. They are a tasty and smart recipe that allow you benefit from probiotics and prebiotics all in one. For example, a snack including a yogurt accompanied by some whole-wheat cereal or a piece of yogurt will benefit your health and you will also be consuming a synbiotic!


Learn more about the new definition of synbiotics and how they are formulated in this new ISAPP infographic.

ISAPP - Synbiotics infographic

ISAPP – Synbiotics infographic


*Host microorganisms refer to both the gut microbiota and externally applied microorganisms in the form of probiotics.




Gibson GR, Roberfroid MB. Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics. J Nutr. 1995; 125(6):1401-12. doi: 10.1093/jn/125.6.1401.

Swanson KS, Gibson GR, Hutkins R, et al. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of synbiotics. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020. doi: 10.1038/s41575-020-0344-2.