Can you take prebiotics and probiotics at the same time?

Christine Fan attended the probiotics product promotion conference with her two sons River and Ryan
Christine Fan attended the probiotics product promotion conference with her two sons River and Ryan / TPG/GettyImages

If you are not sensitive to either probiotics or prebiotics alone, you can safely mix the two types of supplements (or their constituents).  Here are the benefits of each and how they can work together to create a healthy gut microbiome.

Looking At Each Separately

Before you get into the details of combining pre and pro, here are some benefits you can expect from each.

Benefits of Prebiotics

Prebiotics cannot be digested by the human body. Instead, they serve as food for beneficial bacteria or probiotics, in the gut. They pass through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract intact and reach the colon where they are fermented by intestinal microflora.

Prebiotics represent indigestible soluble fibers acting as sustenance for gut bacteria. Notably, prebiotics cater specifically to anaerobic bacteria inhabiting the gut, which remain sensitive to oxygen exposure and thus cannot formulate probiotic supplements. 

Anaerobic bacteria significantly influence general well-being, rendering prebiotic supplements pivotal in cultivating and preserving their presence. Ultimately, harnessing the combined power of probiotics and prebiotics makes holistic improvements across multiple physiological systems.

Their benefits? Prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria to help maintain a healthy gut flora balance. By maintaining a healthy balance, you can prevent health problems such as digestive issues, skin conditions, autoimmune disorders and even mental health concerns like anxiety and depression.

Foods rich in prebiotics include whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, chicory root, dandelion greens, and Jerusalem artichokes. Supplements containing prebiotic fibers such as inulin or fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are also available.

However, it’s a good idea to get your prebiotics from a natural source whenever possible since they come packaged with other nutrients and phytochemicals that work synergistically for optimal health.

Benefits of Probiotics

The term "probiotics" is often associated with foods or supplements containing strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, microorganisms that improve or restore the balance of bacteria in the gut. These are the most popular, there are many other species of bacteria classified as probiotics.

The primary benefit of probiotics lies in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Your body hosts trillions of microbes, most of which live in your intestines. A diverse and balanced bacterial community promotes good digestion, strengthens the immune system, inhibits pathogen growth, and synthesizes essential vitamins like B12 and K.

Probiotics have shown promise in treating specific gastrointestinal conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), antibiotic-associated diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, Clostridioides difficile infection, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Considering 49% of women and 36.6% of men have at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder including IBIS, maintaining gut health is really important.

Besides the benefits to digestive health, probiotics can also contribute to good immune function, gut-brain connection and emotional well-being. They can facilitate gut-brain communication, produce neurotransmitters and impact mood regulation – particularly via the production of serotonin, referred to as the 'body's happiness hormone.'

Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, tempeh, pickles, and sourdough bread naturally contain probiotics. If you’re sensitive to lactose, go for Greek yogurt since it’s a lower-lactose food.  As a yogurt option, Greek yogurt has less added sugars, making it healthier. 

Additionally, probiotic supplements are widely available in various forms such as capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid drops. When choosing a product, look for reputable brands with clear labeling indicating the strain(s) used and colony-forming units (CFUs) per serving.

Can You Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?

There’s a reason probiotics and prebiotics combined are one of 2024’s trendy health ingredients, right up there with seaweed and ginger. Other health trends to get behind are skin-clearing foods like grapes and tomatoes and plant-based protein to reduce inflammation.

By pairing prebiotics and probiotics, you unleash their full potential due to their synergistic or symbiotic relationship. While each offers distinct advantages independently, combining them amplifies these benefits exponentially.

How does this partnership boost health?

  • Feeding Time: Prebiotics nourish probiotics, enabling them to thrive and multiply within the gut. Upon ingesting probiotic supplements - commonly encapsulated - prebiotics inside the capsule supply instant sustenance once opened in the large intestine. Fueled by the prebiotics, probiotic bacteria grow robust and establish themselves within the gut.
  • Energy Boost: Some probiotic supplements incorporate additional prebiotics in modest quantities. When probiotics enter the intestines, they find readily accessible fuel sources among the included prebiotics. Consequently, these early interactions bolster bacterial reproduction rates, empowering probiotics to overtake potentially detrimental bacteria in the gut microbiome.
  • Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Symbiotic blends marry prebiotics and probiotics seamlessly, fostering increased probiotic bacteria nestling securely in your digestive tract while delivering sustained energy. Though consuming separate prebiotic and probiotic solutions yields positive outcomes individually, taking both consistently may be better overall.

Considerations Before You Combine the Two

Generally speaking, prebiotics and probiotics pose minimal risks when incorporated into daily routines, with occasional mild gastrointestinal side effects being the exception rather than the norm. New users might notice temporary increases in gas, bloating, or minor digestive disturbances during the adjustment period as gut bacteria adapt to the introduced supplements.

A brief spell of unease might arise initially from the probiotic supplement removing undesirable bacteria or yeast lurking in your intestine. Persistence will pay off, though, as flourishing beneficial bacteria gradually replace their less wholesome counterparts, easing any lingering discomfort.

If you struggle with bacterial overgrowth, such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), consult a trusted health care professional before experimenting with new prebiotic regimes.

The Synergistic Dream Team

Incorporating prebiotics and probiotics into your diet can significantly benefit overall gut health. Prebiotics nourish beneficial bacteria already present in the gut, allowing them to thrive and multiply. On the other hand, probiotics introduce additional live beneficial bacteria directly into the digestive system.

You may experience a more robust and diverse microbial community within your gastrointestinal tract by combining these two components.

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