Prebiotics vs Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics, what are they and how can you use that knowledge to best take care of your mental health and your brain health? The microbiome is really one of the cutting edge pieces of nutritional psychiatry. These are all of the organisms that live in our gut and prebiotics and probiotics are two of the most important concepts you need to understand in terms of fueling the microbiome.


Prebiotic foods fuel the organisms in the microbiome and it’s a fancy way of saying fiber. One of the really important things for me as a clinician who practices nutritional psychiatry is to help people understand sure, there are lots of interesting and fancy foods like Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and dandelion greens that have a lot of prebiotic fibers, but there are also lots of everyday foods that we all can incorporate into our dietary plan. Onions, garlic, lentils, and beans are just a few. One of my favorites is oatmeal. It’s a great way to start the day and has a lot of some of the specialized fibers that we know a healthy, diverse microbiome feeds on and is fueled by. That’s prebiotic foods.


Probiotic foods contain live bacteria. Often the experts in this part of science talk about the three K’s: kombucha kimchi and kefir. That’s because these are three of the archetypal fermented foods and in my opinion, kefir is really one of the most concentrated forms of probiotics that you can get. Prebiotic foods are foods that have a lot of fiber and fuel the microbiome. The bacteria in our gut digest these and from these fibers makes all kinds of interesting things for us such as molecules that help us regulate our immune system, molecules that influence and improve our mental health and a lot of important nutrients for our gut. It’s also very important that we eat these probiotic foods. Probiotics, again, are foods that have live organisms in them. This sometimes is gross or maybe new information to people that this is an important part of health but if we think about it, all cultures have had fermented foods.

Probiotics and prebiotics are a great way to begin to take care of your health and take care of your gut. Fueling the microbiome, eating prebiotic and probiotic foods are a big focus of our new course Healing the Modern Brain, A Lifestyle Guide to Depression and Anxiety. So if this type of information interests, you, please check it out.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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