Can you take prebiotics and probiotics together? Should you take them together? Does it matter if they are in food or supplement form?
The more we uncover about prebiotics and probiotics, naturally the more questions will come up – and as a functional gut health dietitian, holistic nutritionist, and former IBS sufferer, I’d love to be the one to answer those questions for you! We’ll unpack all of the above in the article below.
In short, yes – you can usually take prebiotics and probiotics together… unless you have a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (“SIBO”) which often triggers adverse reactions to most types of prebiotics and probiotics in general. (More on that later!)
And no, you don’t necessarily have to take prebiotics and probiotics at the same time in order to reap their many benefits! 😉
Let me explain…
Prebiotics and probiotics: a quick review
Maybe you’ve heard of prebiotics and probiotics, and you know they’re “good for gut health.” But what the heck are they?!
Prebiotics are indigestible fibers, and/or antioxidant polyphenol constituents of certain plant-based foods (and also found in honey) which feed and promote the growth of probiotics in the gut. (Feel free to learn more about prebiotic foods and herbs here.)
Probiotics are thelive microorganisms in the gut which are beneficial (and in some cases required) for our digestion and overall health, on many levels.They ferment the prebiotic fibers/polyphenols, which leads to the secretion of bi-products (“post-biotics”) called short-chain fatty acids. (1)
(Feel free to learn more and nerd out on the key differences between prebiotics vs probiotics here.)
Prebiotics and probiotics: a magical combination
The short-chain fatty acids (aka “postbiotics”) are actually directly responsible for all the amazing health benefits which stem from prebiotics and probiotics working together in the gut, synergistically.
Taking prebiotics and probiotics together: anecdotal and evidence-based insights
When you take prebiotics and probiotics together, anecdotally, many healthcare providers have speculated and hypothesized that it may be easier for them to reach your colon around the same time. (That’s where the “magic” happens!)
There are also no known adverse effects or contraindications for taking prebiotics and probiotics together, with the exception of people who have SIBO (as I mentioned earlier).
But the SIBO issue is not specifically related to taking these gut health supplements at the same time – it’s just an adverse reaction to those types of foods/supplements in general, which I see happen a lot in my clinical practice.
On the other hand, in most clinical studies, prebiotics and probiotics aren’t usually administered together at the same time, and they still result in positive benefits!
- This is likely because most of us already have at least some probiotics in the gut at baseline, and it’s also relatively easy to get prebiotics from most types of fruits, veggies, legumes, and certain types of herbs/spices.
Does it matter if they are foods or supplements?
Generally, the best way to feed and maintain a variety of probiotic microbes in your gut is to eat a variety of fruits, veggies, and other antioxidant-rich, plant-based prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods.
But there may be certain cases where you know you’re low in a specific strain of probiotic bacteria, in which case leaning on a specific category of prebiotic and probiotic foods/supplements may be a good idea so you can repopulate strategically via a therapeutic dose.
Either way, taking probiotic foods/supplements within less than 30 minutes of eating (or ideally as close to a meal as possible) seems to be the best way for them to make it past your stomach (which is very acidic) and get carried down all the way to the colon where they belong. (2)
If you’d like to learn more about prebiotics and probiotics, you may enjoy the following recipes and articles:
- Prebiotics vs Probiotics, According to a Gut Health Dietitian
- Ultimate Prebiotic Foods & Herbs List PDF
- What’s the Best Sauerkraut for Probiotics and Gut Health?
- Prebiotic & Low FODMAP Potato Salad
- Honey For IBS: Benefits & Contraindications
- The 5R Protocol: A Holistic Approach to Leaky Gut Repair
- GI Mapping: An Integrative, Cutting-Edge Component of Gut Health Treatment
Generally, it’s fine to take prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements together. It may even be more beneficial, but it isn’t necessary. However, it is generally best-practice to take probiotics with food, so they can make it all the way down to your colon.
If you notice that taking prebiotics and/or probiotics seems to worsen IBS symptoms, you should ask your doctor about ruling out SIBO. (Or if you know you have SIBO, you should consult your treatment team before taking prebiotics or probiotics!)
If you found this helpful, please share this article with a loved one who is wanting to learn more about prebiotics and probiotics! 🙂
XO – Jenna