Probiotics have been having a moment. A pretty long moment now, actually, with everyone from WebMD to random TikTokkers singing their praises when it comes to supporting gut health, immune system function, and overall mood. 

And now, just when you’ve gotten on board and started taking probiotics (or at least you know you SHOULD take probiotics), you are hearing about prebiotics. 

So what are prebiotics? Are prebiotics meant to replace your probiotics? Do they really work? And if they do work, what are the signs you should take them?  

These are all questions we are going to dive into here. We’ll help you cut through the noise when it comes to prebiotics, giving you what you need to know to decide if they are right for you. 

What are prebiotics? What role do they play when it comes to gut health?

An image with the title ‘What are Prebiotics?’ shows various foods and explains that prebiotics are fibers we cannot digest that healthy bacteria like to eat, helping them to flourish.

To understand prebiotics and how they function in your body, we have to take a step back and look at the gut and the significance of gut health for overall well-being. 

Gut bacteria in the body

An image with the title ‘The role of gut bacteria in the body’ lists various benefits of gut bacteria: supports digestive health, immune system health, central nervous system health, cardiovascular system health, reduces the risk of chronic disease, helps fight infection, and improves mood.

When we refer to your “gut,” we are referring to the organs that make up your overall digestive tract, which include your large and small intestine. But when we refer to “gut health,” we are actually looking at the bacteria and microbes that live within the digestive tract and make up the gut microbiome. 

These gut bacteria are responsible for digesting your food efficiently and maintaining digestive health, but they are responsible for so much more than that, too. In fact, the gut is often referred to as your “second brain” because of how crucial it is to other systems within your body, including the immune system, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system1.  A healthy gut microbiota can help fight infection, improve mood, and even reduce your risk of chronic disease. 

Prebiotics play a crucial role in maintaining this gut microbiota. Prebiotics are essentially fibers that healthy bacteria like to eat. Your body can’t digest them, so they live within your digestive tract and help beneficial bacteria, like probiotics, to flourish. 

What are some foods containing prebiotics?

An image with the title ‘What are some foods containing Prebiotics?’ lists several foods and shows pictures of them. The listed foods include: chicory root, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, barley, oats, legumes, soybeans, and whole grains.

Some of the most common food sources of prebiotics include: 

  • Chicory Root
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem Artichoke 
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Barley 
  • Oats
  • Legumes
  • Soybeans
  • Whole Grains2

What are the benefits of prebiotics? 

An image with the title ‘What are the benefits of Prebiotics?’ lists several benefits and includes corresponding icons. The benefits include:

Improved Digestion: Prebiotics help gut bacteria, improving digestion and breaking down complex carbohydrates.
Enhanced Nutrient Absorption: Prebiotics aid in extracting vitamins and nutrients from food, playing a role in overall nutrient absorption.
Immune System Support: Prebiotics help healthy gut bacteria consume resources that bad bacteria need to grow, and influence immune response cells.
Reduced Inflammation: Prebiotics produce short-chain fatty acids with powerful anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body.
Mental Health and Mood: Better gut health improves overall mental health, mood, memory, learning, and can help with certain mental health disorders.

Essentially, prebiotics help probiotics thrive, populate within the body, and do all the awesome things probiotics are known to do. So by incorporating prebiotics into a diet that includes probiotic-rich foods or probiotic supplements, you will experience heightened probiotic benefits, including: 

Improved Digestion

When you consume prebiotic-rich foods, like beans, oats, and barley, you are essentially creating a buffet for all the healthy bacteria in your gut, and when healthy bacteria flourish in the gut, they can help the gut to function more efficiently. Therefore, prebiotics can aid in overall digestion. Specifically, prebiotics have been shown to help break down complex carbohydrates. 

Enhanced Nutrient Absorption

Digestion involves not only the breakdown of the food itself but also the extraction of the vitamins and nutrients within that food. So, when you take prebiotics and support the flourishing of good bacteria within your gut, you also enhance overall nutrient absorption. This helps you get the most out of your foods and reap the maximum benefits of a healthy diet. 

Immune System Support

Believe it or not, your gut health is directly linked to the health of your immune system. That’s because when healthy bacteria thrive in your gut, they crowd out the resources that infection-causing bacteria would need to grow. Not only that, but studies have shown that prebiotics influence cells directly responsible for your body’s immune response, including TREG cells, effector T cells, and B cells2

Reduced Inflammation

Prebiotics produce short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate, which have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, not just within the gut microbiome but throughout the body. 

More than that, one double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that people who took 5.5 grams of prebiotics a day saw an increase in IL-10 levels,  a protein known for its anti-inflammatory properties3

Mental Health and Mood

Your gut is directly connected to your brain through what’s called the “gut-brain axis.” This direct line of communication not only allows your body to signal to your brain that you’re full, but studies have shown that better gut health has been linked to better overall mental health, too.  

In fact, when it comes to prebiotics, research has shown that prebiotics influence your gut microbiota in such a way that it improves mood, memory, learning, and the presentation of certain psychiatric disorders 4.  

If you’re interested in learning even more about prebiotics, we have an entire post dedicated to prebiotics that you can read here. For now, though, let’s actually move on to discussing probiotics and how prebiotics and probiotics work together to do amazing things for the body. 

What are probiotics?

An image with the title ‘Role of Probiotics in Vaginal Health’ shows an illustration of female reproductive organs. The text explains that a healthy probiotic population within the vagina helps fight off bad bacteria that lead to vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infections.

We’ve been talking a lot about how prebiotics benefit the growth and function of probiotics, and if you’ve found yourself thinking, “Shoot, I don’t actually remember why probiotics are,” don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. 

In short, probiotics are healthy bacteria that live within virtually every part of your body and help that part of the body to function and operate as it should. A healthy probiotic population within the gut helps the gut to better digest food, for example. And a healthy probiotic population within the vagina helps fight off bad bacteria that lead to vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infections.   

Sources of probiotics

An image with the title ‘Probiotic Sources’ shows various illustrations of foods and supplements that are sources of probiotics. The listed sources include: kombucha, tempeh, kefir, miso, yogurt, fermented vegetables, and probiotic supplements.

Probiotics can be found naturally through foods like: 

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Fermented Vegetables
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kombucha

But people who are experiencing certain health issues, like those we will dive into next, find that the most effective way to consume probiotics is not only by consuming probiotic-rich foods but by taking a probiotic supplement. Some probiotic supplements are available as a powder, which can be added to foods like smoothies, but many find that the traditional probiotic capsule is the easiest form of probiotics to remember to take. 

What are the benefits of a probiotic supplement? 

An image with the title ‘Gut and Vaginal Health benefits of Probiotics’ lists several benefits and includes corresponding icons. The benefits include:

Restoring Gut Flora Balance: Taking daily probiotics helps restore beneficial bacteria in the gut, alleviating common digestive issues and preventing the growth of bad bacteria.
Alleviating Digestive Issues: Daily probiotic intake is especially helpful for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea, linked to a lack of useful bacteria in the gut.
Managing Lactose Intolerance: Probiotics help with lactose digestion, making it easier for those with lactose intolerance to enjoy dairy without discomfort.
Bolstering Women’s Health: Vaginal health is related to a probiotic called Lactobacillus, which helps maintain the vagina’s slightly acidic pH to kill off infection-causing bacteria

By taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, you are ensuring you are getting an adequate dosage of probiotics every day. Especially for those who are concerned with gut health or vaginal health, this can lead to tremendous benefits, including: 

Restoring Gut Flora Balance

By taking daily probiotics, you are actively working to restore the beneficial bacteria that live within your gut. Restoring the balance in your overall gut flora will help alleviate common digestive issues like bloating,  gas, and constipation while also inhibiting the growth of pathogens inside the body, which could lead to more serious infections 5

Alleviating Digestive Issues

Daily probiotic supplements can help anyone increase their overall gut health, but they are especially helpful for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea.

That’s because intestinal illnesses like IBS and even celiac disease are associated with a lack of useful bacteria in the gut5, and by taking probiotic supplements, you are actively replenishing your body’s levels of useful bacteria each and every day. 

Managing of Lactose Intolerance

If you suffer from lactose intolerance, your body struggles to break down lactose within the gut. Probiotics have been shown to aid in lactose digestion, making it easier for those with lactose intolerance to enjoy dairy without all the usual discomfort6

Bolstering Women’s Health

Vaginal health can be directly related to a probiotic called Lactobacillus, which helps maintain the vagina’s slightly acidic pH by secreting both lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. With a slightly acidic pH level, the vagina can kill off the harmful bacteria known to cause vaginal infections like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis 7

So while not all probiotics have an impact on vaginal health, those that contain those proven strains of Lactobacillus, like Happy V’s Prebiotics + Probiotics, most certainly will. 

If you want to read more about the line between probiotics and overall vaginal health, you can find that here

How do I make sure I’m getting the right level of prebiotics and probiotics daily? 

An image shows a person holding a pill with text explaining that for a convenient and reliable way to get the daily prebiotics and probiotics needed to achieve health goals, consider a daily probiotic supplement that also contains prebiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics have a symbiotic relationship, meaning they work together and help one another. So if you are or have considered taking a daily probiotic to improve gut health or vaginal health, adding prebiotics to your daily routine will help you to achieve better results. 

Certainly, you can get your daily prebiotics through some of the prebiotic-rich foods we mentioned earlier, or you could take a stand-alone prebiotic capsule in conjunction with your probiotic. But if you really want to make things easy and ensure you are getting the daily prebiotics and probiotics you need to achieve your health goals, consider a daily probiotic that also contains prebiotics, like Happy V’s Prebiotic + Probiotic. It’s one convenient capsule that is always held to the highest standards in quality and science.

Besides taking prebiotics and probiotics, what else can I do to support gut health?

An image with the title ‘What else can I do to support gut health?’ lists several tips and includes corresponding icons. The tips include:
Limit Artificial Sweeteners: Reducing sugar intake helps lower bad bacteria levels in the gut by cutting off their preferred food supply, including cane sugar, saccharine, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame-K, and stevia.
Limit Processed Foods: Refined starches and grains can negatively impact the gut microbiota by feeding bad bacteria.
Stay Hydrated: Water plays an important role in shaping the human gut microbiome.
Avoid Overuse of Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill all bacteria in your body, including the good probiotics that help the body function.
Manage Stress: Stress affects the brain-gut axis, impacting digestive function and immune function

The gut microbiome is incredible. And incredibly complex. If you want to increase your overall gut health,  a daily prebiotic + probiotic is a great place to start. But you can also look at certain lifestyle choices, like:

  • Limiting Artificial Sweeteners

Eating a balanced diet full of prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods will actively help boost the levels of healthy bacteria within your gut microbiome. And limiting your sugar intake will actively help diminish the levels of bad bacteria within your gut by cutting off a favorite food supply. 

Bad bacteria love sugar, and it can accelerate their growth. In fact, studies have shown that excessive sugar or starch consumption can lead to Candida dysbiosis 8, the most common culprit in vaginal yeast infections. 

Bad bacteria don’t just love natural sugars, like cane sugar, but artificial sweeteners like saccharine, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame-K, and stevia 9. So check the labels of your favorite foods, especially if you are suffering from recurring yeast infections. You might be surprised by what you find on the label!

  • Limit Processed Foods

Like sugar, consuming excess carbohydrates, especially refined starches and grains, can negatively impact the gut microbiota by feeding the bad bacteria living there10. Opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains instead. 

  • Avoid Overuse of Antibiotics

Antibiotics don’t just kill the bad bacteria in your body; they kill ALL the bacteria in your body, even the good probiotics that help the body to function. So while the occasional antibiotic prescription may be necessary to fight off a nasty infection, if you feel like you are being prescribed antibiotics frequently and for recurring infections, talk to your healthcare provider about alternatives that may not have such an effect on your overall microbiome.

  • Manage Stress

Stress is just bad news for the body. It affects not only the brain but the functioning of that brain-gut axis we mentioned earlier, which can alter digestive function and immune function11

So, self-care is not just a social media buzzword. It’s a really important healthcare practice, and your stress-relieving tools might differ from someone else’s. Some people love to run, others love to meditate, and others find relief by losing themselves in a hobby. Play around and see what works best for you, and if you still feel like your stress is an issue, talk to a therapist or other healthcare provider to see how they might be able to help.

  • Stay Hydrated

When in doubt, drink more water. Especially if you are looking to increase your overall gut health, one study conducted in 2022 found that water plays an important role in shaping the human gut microbiome12

One hack that we use at Happy V to up our water intake is to buy water bottles that measure using time instead of fluid ounces; that way, we know if we are on track for the day!

Final Thoughts

An image shows a close-up view of bacteria with text explaining that prebiotics are a proven way to boost the function of probiotics within the body. This can help improve gut health, vaginal health, mental health, and overall wellness.

Prebiotics are a proven way to boost the function of probiotics within your body, which can help improve gut health, vaginal health, mental health, and overall wellness. Especially if you are already incorporating probiotics into your daily routine, prebiotics will help these probiotics go further and get you closer to your health goals. 

Prebiotics are available naturally through foods like oats, barley, and soybeans, but many find it easiest to swap their plain probiotic supplement for a probiotic that also contains a prebiotic. But of course, before incorporating any new supplement into your routine, even one as well-studied as probiotics, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider. They will help you choose the exact supplement that’s right for you.