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Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What's the Difference? Do You Need Both?

You’ve probably heard a whole lot about probiotics lately…but what about prebiotics?

Probiotics and prebiotics work together to play separate—but vital—roles for your health. But with probiotics taking up most of the spotlight, it’s important to know how they differ, and the benefits that pre and probiotics can offer…

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What's the Difference?

Probiotics are a type of good bacteria and yeasts that live in your gut. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that serve as food for probiotics. Because of the way they work together, it’s important to get a proper balance of both prebiotics and probiotics.

Benefits of Prebiotics & Probiotics

First and foremost, prebiotics and probiotics promote a healthy gut—but in turn, a healthy gut provides all kinds of health benefits throughout the body.

According to a 2013 study, good gut bacteria can help boost your immune system, help manage obesity, and even tackle symptoms of depression (1).


It might help to think of probiotics as a jack-of-all-trades:

  • They help reduce inflammation, which in turn lowers your risk of cancer and other inflammation-related health issues.
  • They help build a barrier within the gut to protect from viruses and bacteria (2).
  • They have been linked to improvement in skin issues, digestion, yeast infections, UTIs, and high blood pressure (3).
  • They positively influence immune function, blood sugar regulation, and appetite (4).
  • They can even increase your energy levels (4).


Similarly, prebiotics may:

  • Assist your gut bacteria in producing nutrients for your colon cells, which can help improve digestion, regularity, and immunity (5, 6).
  • Improve metabolic health (7). Because of this, prebiotics can assist in disease prevention, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes (8).
  • Promote satiety. This helps regulate appetite which may, in turn, help reduce body weight (8).
  • Enhance the bioavailability and uptake of the following minerals: calcium, magnesium, and possibly iron (8).

Why Do I Need Prebiotics & Probiotics?

Gut health is about so much more than how your stomach feels. Your gut is connected to everything from how you process emotions to whether your joints ache on chilly mornings.

Gut-Brain Connection

Did you know that your gut talks to you? Your gut and your brain are connected physically and chemically through something called the gut-brain axis (this is what they use to communicate with each other!) (9, 10).

This communication happens through neurons…

Neurons are electrically excitable cells in your brain and central nervous system that act as information messengers to other cells. Your brain has as many as 100 billion neurons that tell your body what to do and how to function (11). What might surprise you is that your gut has neurons too—500 million of them (12). They connect to your brain through your nerves, especially the vagus nerve, which is the largest nerve between your gut and brain and a key part of the gut-brain axis (13).

Illustration of the vagus nerve running from the brain to the gut.

Neurons aren’t just there for your brain to send commands to your gut. Rather, messages are sent in both directions…which means that your gut is directly influencing the health and function of your brain (14)!

Put simply, a healthy gut = a happier brain.

Studies on the vagus nerve have found plenty of connections between stress and gut health. Animal studies have found that stress can inhibit the signals in the vagus nerve and cause stomach issues (15). Other research has found that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease are associated with the vagus nerve not functioning as well as it could (16).

The brain and gut also connect with each other through neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that control our emotions and produce chemicals (17). Like neurons, neurotransmitters aren’t just limited to the brain. Your gut also produces neurotransmitters. This means that your gut can create chemicals that influence your mood.

Serotonin, the “happy chemical,” is one of the most well-known neurotransmitters. As it turns out, a huge proportion of your body’s serotonin is produced in your gut. Your gut is making happy chemicals (18)!

Research has also found that gut microbes can produce GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps soothe anxiety and depressive symptoms while helping you sleep soundly at night (19).

Taking probiotics can even help increase your gut’s GABA production (20).

Gut-Joint Connection

Your gut doesn’t stop at the brain. It can also deeply impact your joint health (21). If your gut isn’t in great shape, it can impact your immune health and, in turn, lead to inflammation (22).

Your gut contains the largest amount of immune cells in your body. When your immune system isn’t working properly—whether it’s too weak or working in overdrive and overestimating risks—you’re at higher risk for inflammatory issues. Arthritis is commonly associated with chronic inflammation (23). An unhealthy gut may put you at higher risk for arthritis and the stiff, achy joints that come along with it.

So much of our health, happiness, and longevity can be directly impacted by the gut. That’s why we need to do everything we can to keep it healthy and balanced (24).

Food Sources of Prebiotics & Probiotics

One way to keep your gut (and in turn, your brain, joints, and body) happy is to seek out prebiotics and probiotics in the foods you eat. Foods rich in prebiotics contain a type of fiber that you aren’t able to digest. Once that fiber reaches your gut, however, it will be eaten by the gut bacteria that can digest it.

Variety of prebiotic foods for gut health: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus.

Try the following foods with prebiotics…

  • Bananas
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Oats
  • Asparagus
  • Legumes
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Berries
  • Onions
  • Jerusalem Artichokes (note: these are a different type of artichoke than the kind you typically buy!)


You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting enough probiotics in your diet. Here are some foods with probiotics to enjoy…

  • Yogurt with Live Cultures
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi

Fun Fact: Some of the foods above contain both prebiotics and probiotics, which means they’re called synbiotics.

Fun Fact: Some of the foods above contain both prebiotics and probiotics, which means they’re called synbiotics.

Purchasing Your Probiotic Supplement

If you’re not getting enough prebiotics and probiotics from your diet alone, you’ll want to choose the best probiotic supplement you can—one that contains several probiotic strains for the best benefits.

NativePath Probiotics offer a custom blend of 10 superstrains among 82 billion culture-forming units (CFUs) of probiotics per bottle. They also include prebiotic soluble fiber right there in the capsule, so all that healthy bacteria will have plenty of fuel.

Top-view shot of a hand pouring out a NativePath Probiotic capsule into her other hand. Bowl of lemons and a glass of water in the background.

Here are the 10 powerful strains in NativePath Probiotics, and the benefits they offer:


  • Lactobacillus acidophilus for gut health, yeast infections, and acne (25)
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus for eczema and antibiotic-related gut health issues (26)
  • Lactobacillus plantarum for managing inflammation (27)
  • Lactobacillus casei for digestion and reducing anxiety and depression (28)
  • Bifidobacterium lactis for immunity (29)
  • Bifidobacterium longum for brain health and digestion (30)
  • Bifidobacterium breve for digestion, anti-aging, and skin health (31)
  • Lactobacillus paracasei for preventing digestive issues and easing symptoms of IBS, Crohn’s disease, and more (32)
  • Lactobacillus salivarius to help prevent chronic diseases, cancer, and infection (33)
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus for colds, allergies, and other health issues (34)

The Bottom Line

In many ways, the health of your gut reflects the health of your body overall, so it’s important to nurture it. It impacts your mental health, your immune system, your joints, how energetic you feel, and so many other aspects of your daily life. While probiotics are buzzier than ever, it’s so important for anyone with gut health goals to make sure they’re getting both probiotics and prebiotics. Make it a simple part of your routine without choosing between prebiotics vs. probiotics with NativePath Probiotics, which includes plenty of prebiotics along with 10 powerful superstrains of probiotics to keep your gut—and body—feeling their best.

As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.

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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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