What are synbiotics – and what is driving their commercial success?

What are synbiotics?

What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

How do synbiotics work?

Prebiotics in synbiotic supplements and synbiotic products


Today’s health and nutrition audience is becoming switched-on to the benefits of gut health. 

Inside the gut there is a community of bacteria that exists in an ever-shifting composition, known as the gut microbiome. Some of these bacteria are known to positively influence health, known as ‘good’ gut bacteria. 

Other types of bacteria found in the gut microbiome are less useful or may even be detrimental or pathogenic; these kinds are known as ‘bad’ gut bacteria.

For health and nutrition brands and their formulators, it’s important to note that consumers are getting to grips with a lot of the more technical elements of gut health. This has given rise to a number of new nutraceutical product categories and commercial opportunities as science surrounding the gut microbiome advances. 

What are synbiotics?

‘Synbiotic’ – not to be confused with ‘symbiotic’ – is a relatively new term in the nutrition lexicon, but the category is already seeing tremendous growth potential. Research firm Mordor Intelligence projects that the synbiotic category will see a strong 8.2% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to 2027, driven by rising interest in gut health.

The term synbiotic comes from the latin ‘syn’, meaning united or combined and biotic, referring to bacteria. In the case of synbiotics, this means prebiotics and probiotics working in tandem as one product. 

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) gives a formal definition as:

“a mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrates, selectively utilised by host microorganisms to confer a health benefit on the host.”

Importantly, ISAPP notes that to qualify as a synbiotic under its definition, each element must independently provide a health benefit, and each dose must be adequate to independently achieve those benefits. 

Synbiotics offer a new path for formulators seeking to develop health and nutrition products, such as supplements or functional foods and beverages, that connect with the needs of today’s consumer. 

What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Synbiotics contain both prebiotics and probiotics, but what is the difference between them?

The answer is simple – probiotics and prebiotics both aim to create a favourable balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome that in turn offers a benefit to the host, but through difference mechanisms.

Probiotic products add live beneficial bacteria to the gut microbiome. These contain living bacterial cultures and feature either single or multiple strains, although the drawback is that these organisms have to ‘survive’ both the manufacturing process, and the digestive system in order to infer a benefit to the host. 

Prebiotics are a specialised type of dietary fibre, although not all dietary fibre is prebiotic. This includes Galactooligosaccharides (GOS), as well as other forms such as Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and Xylooligosaccharides (XOS).

Prebiotics are the preferred ‘food’ source for a number of important beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium. By including prebiotics in the diet or through dedicated dietary supplements, these good gut bacteria, which have positive health-supporting effects, are fuelled and nourished. 

Notably, prebiotics are a substrate, rather than a live organism, which gives a great deal more flexibility and stability when formulating, along with simpler handling and storage in the manufacturing process.

How do synbiotics work?

As a mix of prebiotics and probiotics in one formulation, synbiotics work by combining two complementary technologies.

The probiotic element physically adds more beneficial bacteria, known to benefit health and wellbeing, into the gut microbiome. Instead of adding more bacteria to the digestive system, the prebiotic element fuels beneficial bacteria that is already present in the gut microbiome. 

There are also different kinds of synbiotics. ISAPP defines two subsets that demonstrate two different approaches to design and formulation. 

‘Synergistic synbiotics’ are designed to have the live probiotics fuelled by the prebiotic substrate that is co-administered in the product, allowing the two elements to work together as a self-contained whole. 

Conversely, ‘complementary synbiotics’ are formulated so that both elements work independently, with the prebiotic chosen to target resident microorganisms in the gut.

Prebiotics in synbiotic supplements and synbiotic products

As consumers get to grips with gut health and the many advantage that good bacteria it brings to physical and mental wellbeing, science is at the centre. The market seeks products that can support a healthy gut and are backed by comprehensive scientific study, which is why functional ingredient selection matters.

The prebiotic element of a synbiotic product can provide a powerful competitive edge and help brands capture market share in rapidly growing category.

Bimuno® GOS makes a strong choice for formulators looking to develop gut health-focused products with strong scientific backing. The most studied prebiotic of its kind, Bimuno GOS is supported by more than 100 scientific publications, including more than 20 clinical trials.

Bimuno GOS is a galactooligosaccharide prebiotic that selectively nourishes bifidobacteria, an important type of good gut bacteria that is associated with digestive and gastrointestinal health, as well as immune function and cognition. 

In developing synbiotic formulations, stability and versatility are key. Bimuno GOS excels at offering this flexibility and performance, and also benefits from a low efficacious dose which makes formulating with it easier and more consumer friendly, in addition to simpler handling and logistics through the manufacturing process.

A clear choice for formulators, Bimuno GOS is widely available through a global distribution network. The ingredient is GRAS approved, has approval from FDA Philippines along with two associated health claims, and has 22 self-substantiated claims registered with Food Standards Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ). Notably, in the respective regions, these claims can be used on-pack. 

To find out more about Bimuno GOS and the science behind it, please click here.