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Can You Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?

Prebiotics and probiotics capsules on a wooden surface with a yellow flower in the middle | Can You Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?

Prebiotics and probiotics are two substances that work well together to promote gut health. In fact, combining the two is more beneficial than taking either in isolation, and it's considered safe to take them this way. Here's what you need to know.

Key Takeaways:

  • Prebiotics and probiotics work synergistically to promote gut health and provide additional benefits when taken together.
  • Prebiotics are non-digestible substances that serve as food for good bacteria, helping them grow and thrive in the gut.
  • Probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial for human health and contribute to a healthy gut.
  • Prebiotics and probiotics can improve immune function, aid in digestion, support healthy weight management, and have potential benefits for mental health, heart health, and allergies.
  • Signs you may need prebiotics include irregular bowel movements, a weakened immune system, and difficulty controlling weight.
  • Signs you may need probiotics include digestive issues, antibiotic use, and a weakened immune system.
  • Combining prebiotics and probiotics is generally safe for healthy adults, but some individuals may experience side effects such as gas or allergic reactions.
  • It is important to consult a healthcare professional, especially if you have medical conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are considering giving prebiotics and probiotics to children.

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Can You Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together? Making Sense of Synbiotics/Microbiome Therapy

Prebiotics and probiotics can both have individual health benefits, but together they become even more powerful.

Taking prebiotics and probiotics at the same time produces a synergistic form of therapy called microbiome or synbiotic therapy. Important to mention within this context are functional food supplements called "synbiotics." 

Synbiotics are synergistic mixtures of pre and probiotics. Synbiotics work together to boost the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Research shows that prebiotics act as food for probiotic bacteria, and by consuming them together you can bolster their potential health benefits.

These specially formulated dietary supplements typically combine the perfect blend of prebiotics and probiotics, providing all the nourishment these friendly microbes need to thrive.

What are Prebiotics?

Although the word prebiotic was coined in 1995, a later revision in 2008 by the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) led to the formation of the definition we're currently using as the standard. From then on, dietary prebiotics are defined as "selectively fermented ingredients that result in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health.”

In plain speak, prebiotics are non-digestible substances (sometimes containing fibre) that help good bacteria grow and thrive.

The human gastrointestinal tract is home to millions of microorganisms called microbiota that are critical for maintaining human health. Prebiotics function as a food source for the gut organisms. Their activities can be multipronged and complex.

According to digestive disease researcher and registered dietitian Gail Cresci, Ph.D., RD, "the microorganisms metabolize and ferment the prebiotics to survive." Through these processes, several other byproducts get created, which in turn contribute to optimal health.

Foods like apples, artichokes, barley, berries, cocoa, flaxseeds, garlic, green vegetables, soybeans, wheat, and oats are some examples of natural sources of prebiotics. You can find foods that also contain prebiotics in your local markets and food stores, such as yoghurt, cereals, and bread. Check the label for terms like inulin, galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, oligofructose, and chicory fibre, which indicate the presence of prebiotics.

Health Benefits of Prebiotics

Research is ongoing on the benefits of prebiotics. But, from what we do know, consuming prebiotics can help your body in a few different ways:

  • Improving the functioning of your immune system and anti-inflammatory response.
  • Improving the body's ability to digest carbohydrates.
  • Helping your bones' ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus, minerals essential for good bone health.
  • Help probiotics by increasing the production of gut-friendly beneficial bacteria and controlling the production of harmful disease-causing "bad bacteria."

Signs You Need Prebiotics

  1. Irregular bowel movements: Prebiotics may help regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation by promoting the growth of good bacteria in your digestive system.
  2. Weakened immune system: Prebiotics can support a healthy immune system by enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria, which may help fight off harmful bacteria.
  3. Difficulty controlling weight: Prebiotics may aid in healthy weight management by promoting feelings of fullness and reducing calorie absorption. They may also help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

What are Probiotics?

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Probiotics are a combination of live microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast that are beneficial for human health. For this reason, they're also called good or healthy bacteria. They naturally occur in your body. Different types of probiotics have different effects on the body.

There are three major types of probiotic strains - live bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and yeasts like Saccharomyces boulardii.

Yoghurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, and fermented pickles are all good sources of probiotics.

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Health Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics can benefit the body in several different ways:

  • They help maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria contributing to a healthy gut.
  • They may help treat or prevent diarrhoea and constipation.
  • Early studies show benefits in improving memory, and the treatment of mental health conditions like anxiety, autism, depression, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • They may help maintain a healthy heart by reducing LDL or blood cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • Some probiotics may be beneficial in the reduction of allergies like eczema in children and infants. More research is needed to get conclusive results.
  • They may help in the treatment of digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), although it isn't medically considered an official treatment protocol.
  • They may help you lose weight and reduce fat.

Signs You Need Probiotics

  1. Digestive issues: If you frequently experience bloating, gas, diarrhea, or other digestive tract problems, it may indicate an imbalance in your gut flora. Probiotic supplements may help restore this balance and alleviate digestive symptoms.
  2. Antibiotic use: Taking antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria that live in your gut, leading to digestive issues and susceptibility to infections. Probiotics can help replenish good bacteria and restore gut health during and after antibiotic treatment.
  3. Weakened immune system: Probiotics can enhance the immune system by increasing the production of antibodies and increasing the activity of cells that fight off infections. This may be particularly beneficial for those with weakened immune systems.

Benefits of Combining Prebiotics and Probiotics?

Prebiotics serve as food sources for probiotics, so taking them together appears to deliver the best results. Together they can be beneficial in treating the symptoms and severity of digestive conditions like IBS and diarrhoea and allergic disorders like eczema, improving the body's immune function, and optimizing metabolic processes.

Side Effects of Combining Probiotics and Prebiotics

Combining prebiotics and probiotics is generally seen as safe for healthy adults, but bear in mind that prebiotics may not always be regulated in different countries. You may experience side effects like gas, bloating, constipation, loose motion, acid reflux, and loss of appetite in the beginning.

Sometimes, you may have an allergic reaction to the bacteria present in the probiotics. If you experience severe reactions like intense stomach pain or breaking out in hives, stop taking the supplements and consult your physician. Also, check back in with your physician if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or are considering giving them to children.

Final Thoughts

Taking a probiotic together with a prebiotic can be a great way to increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut and improve digestive health. Bear in mind that some people may have intolerances or reactions to the type of bacteria present in the mix. Also, different probiotics may affect individuals differently.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Can you take probiotics and prebiotics together every day?

The combination is seen as safe for healthy adults. Some people may have an intolerance or allergic reaction to the specific type of bacteria in the probiotic. Consult your doctor if you have medical conditions like yeast infections, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, to be on the safe side.

Q2. Which is the best time to take prebiotics and probiotics?

Some researchers recommend consuming them before breakfast or just before bedtime. Bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in probiotics survive the best when taken up to 30 minutes before a meal. They also seem effective taken at night time when you're not actively digesting. Also, refer to the labelling on your packaging for instructions on when to take them. The key to benefits, at the end of the day, is consistency.

Q3. Can you take pre and probiotics with antibiotics?

Antibiotics do a great job of killing off bad bacteria, but unfortunately, they can also damage your healthy gut bacteria, leading to uncomfortable digestive issues. To help reduce these side effects, many healthcare professionals advise taking pre and probiotic supplements. Studies have shown that this helps safeguard the beneficial gut flora. For maximum results, make sure to take the supplements at least two hours before or after taking antibiotics but always consult your doctor for personalized advice.

Q4. Can you take pre and probiotics when you're pregnant?

Taking prebiotics and probiotics together is generally safe unless you have intolerances or allergies to the specific bacteria. Consult your OB-GYN to be on the safe side before taking any functional food supplements.

Q5. How long does it take for prebiotics to work?

While this varies from person to person and prebiotic supplement, you can expect effects within days or weeks. Remember, they’re most effective in tandem with probiotics, the actual beneficial bacteria themselves. Eventually, your gut microbiome will adapt and optimize its balance, leading to improved digestion, immunity, and well-being.

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan

Holding a Bachelor Of Science (Hons.) combined with close to a decade now in the health food and wellness industry, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to provide a depth of knowledge and first-hand experience on emerging health products, trends and ideas! From greens powders and medicinal mushrooms through to protein powders and workout nutrition - I'm particularly interested in what modern science can uncover about what human cultures have been using to treat ailments for millennia!

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