When it comes to fostering optimal health, the gut is a hot topic. Your gut microbiome hosts trillions of bacteria that are important not only for maintaining a healthy digestive system, but for your overall well-being. Research has shown that an unhealthy gut is associated with a wide range of conditions, including obesity and other metabolic disorders, autoimmune diseases, mental health disorders, and even certain types of cancer. Hence, the increasing importance of prebiotics and probiotics. This guide sheds light on these essential life-enhancing substances and answers the question: Can take prebiotics and probiotics together.
The answer is a definite, “Yes.”
Prebiotics and probiotics: How are they different?
The terms “prebiotics” and “probiotics” might sound similar, but they play different roles in your health. When it comes to maintaining a healthy gut, it's important to understand the difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Both are beneficial for digestive function and overall well-being.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are fermentable fibers that your body can't digest, so they pass through your digestive system.There, they essentially feed “the good bacteria” in your gut, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. By promoting their growth and activity, prebiotics help to create a balanced and diverse microbiome, which is crucial for a healthy digestive system.
In turn, the abundant good bacteria produce metabolites, including short chain fatty acids (SCFAs,) which play a vital role in the maintenance of gut, metabolic, cardiovascular, immune, and cognitive health. Butyrate, acetate, and propionate are three of the most important of these SCFAs, which provide energy for the cells lining the colon and play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy gut environment.
How does all of that benefit your health? Diets rich in prebiotics have been shown to:
- Improve digestion
- Boost immune function
- Enhance nutrient absorption
- Reduce risks for heart disease by improving blood lipid levels
- Reduce risks for colon cancer
- Aid in controlling your blood sugar levels, of benefit to those with diabetes or any individuals at risk for a wide range of metabolic disorders
The most common types of prebiotic fibers include inulin, resistant starch, and fructooligosaccharides. These fibers are found in a variety of foods, including bananas, onions, garlic, oats, and many others.
What are probiotics?
We often think of bacteria as something harmful, but your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. The balance between these good and bad bacteria is crucial for maintaining optimal health. Probiotics, which are live and beneficial bacteria and yeasts, act as the "good" bacteria, helping to restore the balance of the gut microbiota by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and promoting the growth of beneficial ones. Additionally, probiotics can produce bioactive compounds, such as enzymes and antimicrobial substances, that further contribute to gut health. These compounds help break down complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, making them more easily digestible and absorbable.
The most medically accepted benefits of probiotics include:
- Efficacy in enhancing digestive functioning. Probiotics have been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms in infectious or antibiotic-associated diarrhea; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); ulcerative colitis (UC); upper respiratory, vaginal and urinary tract infections; and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and allergies.
However, while there is plenty of evidence linking probiotic intake to benefits for individuals suffering from symptoms of specific gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, and various infections, the potential benefits of probiotics for healthy people (in helping to prevent or reduce risks for disease and disorders) is still an ongoing area of research.
Probiotics can be found naturally in your body, particularly in your intestines. However, they can also be obtained from certain foods and supplements. Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir are excellent sources of probiotics.
Can prebiotics and probiotics be taken together?
When it comes to gut health, the combination of prebiotics and probiotics has what’s called a "synbiotic" effect, because these two substances can work together to promote a healthy gut and overall well-being. In short, since prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that act as food for probiotics, which are live bacteria or yeasts that provide health benefits when consumed, when taken together they form a dynamic duo that can enhance each other's effects.
- One of the main benefits of combining prebiotics and probiotics is the potential to improve the composition of the gut microbiota. Prebiotics serve as nourishment for probiotics, helping them thrive and multiply in the gut, leading to a more diverse and balanced microbiota, which is essential for optimal digestive functioning, metabolic health, immune health, and even cognitive health.
- The combined use of prebiotics and probiotics has been associated with improved nutrient absorption. By promoting a healthy gut environment, these two substances can enhance the absorption of essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, ensuring that your body receives the maximum benefit from the food you consume.
Simultaneous consumption of both has shown promising effects in managing certain gastrointestinal conditions. Research suggests that the combination of prebiotics and probiotics may help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other digestive disorders. This powerful duo can help reduce inflammation, restore gut barrier function, and rebalance the gut microbiota, leading to relief from gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Combining the two can also improve satiety, that feeling of fullness that can aid in weight management, which is so important for metabolic, cardiovascular, and overall health. A consensus of scientists believe that fibers and proteins act as the most important compounds in reducing appetite and inducing satiety. Accordingly, you can up your consumption of prebiotic-rich foods to increase your fiber intake, while turning to protein-rich probiotic sources — such as yogurt or cottage cheese — to gain those satiety benefits.
Potential side effects and risks
While the combination of prebiotics and probiotics offers numerous health benefits, it is important to be aware of potential risks and considerations. Consuming excessive amounts of prebiotics and probiotics is rarely life-threatening, but it may lead to unpleasant side effects like gas, bloating, and discomfort.
An adjustment period is advised if you’ve begun to significantly up your intake of prebiotics and probiotics so that the gut microbiota can adapt to the introduction of new substances. To minimize any discomfort, it is advisable to start with smaller quantities of both food types (or supplement doses — see section on Supplements, below) and gradually increase the quantities over time.
How to incorporate prebiotics and probiotics into your diet
Prebiotic fibers are found in many vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, including:
- Grains: Oats, wheat bran, barley
- Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, asparagus, leeks, onions, chicory, dandelion greens, burdock root, jicama, mushrooms, seaweed, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fennel, kale
- Fruits: Bananas, blueberries, citrus, apples, pears, nectarines, watermelon, cherries, grapes, raspberries, avocados, kiwi
- Legumes/nuts/seeds: soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds, kidney beans, almonds, pistachios
Read more about prebiotics and great ways to add them to your diet in:
Probiotic foods, as we indicated earlier, contain live microorganisms with demonstrated health benefits. While not entirely synonymous with probiotics, many fermented foods do happen to represent the richest sources of health-benefiting probiotic microorganisms, particularly:
Fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir): These foods improve lactose digestion, and have a demonstrated ability to ease both diarrhea and constipation (which is attributed to their inhibiting colonization of harmful bacteria in the gut); thus, they are considered potentially beneficial for those individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These foods also appear to be supportive of measurements of cardiometabolic health, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
Fermented soybeans (miso, tempeh, natto): Despite a relatively high sodium level, miso is associated with reduced risk factors for CVD. Beyond its nutrient content, tempeh intake is linked to benefits for gut health, brain health, heart health, and skeletal muscle health. In a pilot study, consumption of natto was associated with suppression of elevated blood glucose following meals.
- Kimchi and sauerkraut: Fermentation of cabbage with lactic acid bacteria breaks down the phytochemicals to activate their disease-protective ability. In human trials, intake of kimchi has been linked to effects on serum lipids, intestinal microbiota, iron status, obesity and metabolic parameters. Sauerkraut intake may benefit the improvement of symptoms in individuals with IBS.
For much more information on probiotic-rich foods, see:
And for tips on combining prebiotics and probiotics into one, healthy diet, see:
And how about tips on avoiding foods low in prebiotics and probiotics, especially:
What supplements contain prebiotics and probiotics
It’s not always easy, convenient, or even economical to adopt and adhere to a diet rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods. If upping your consumption of these items gets a bit challenging, a dietary supplement focused on gut health may make good sense for you.
However, before trying a supplement, speak to your medical professional; while supplements containing prebiotics and probiotics can be beneficial for many individuals, they may not be suitable for those with compromised immune systems, certain medical conditions, or those undergoing specific medical treatments. If you are a good candidate for dietary supplementation, be an informed consumer and utilize resources available to you when shopping for the supplement that’s best for you: See our 3-Step guide: How to buy supplements. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s important to find a supplement from a reputable brand backed by scientific rigor.
Did you know that you can take a supplement combining the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics in one convenient dose? Such supplements are known as synbiotics because they are designed to have a superior effect: By combining the right prebiotic and probiotics into one compound, a synbiotic should have greater potential to achieve and maintain a healthy gut by intensifying and elongating the function and efficacy of probiotic bacteria.
See our previous section on Potential side effects and risks, which pertained to increased consumption of natural high-fiber prebiotic foods and probiotic-rich ones. Essentially, the same risks and side effects pertain to supplements that contain derivatives of such foods, and the effects can be magnified in supplement forms if too much is taken too soon.
Eden’s 3:1 Synbiotic Superblend includes 5 scientifically-backed prebiotics (resistant potato starch, locust bean and guar gums, oat bran, and barley beta glucan) and 4 beneficial probiotics (B. coagulans, yeast, LGG, and LPC-37). Eden’s also contains a selection of antioxidant-rich polyphenols from gold and green kiwifruit, lychee, green tea, and turmeric. Together, these ingredients work to optimize your digestive and metabolic health, your heart health, your overall immunity, and even your cognitive health — all while improving your level of satiety to aid in weight management.
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
Can you take prebiotics and probiotics together? In conclusion, the combination of prebiotics and probiotics (known as synbiotics) holds significant potential for improving gut health and overall well-being. By nourishing the gut microbiota and promoting a balanced ecosystem, these two substances can work synergistically to support digestion, enhance nutrient absorption, and alleviate certain gastrointestinal conditions. Furthermore, this nutrient combo holds the promise of supporting immunity and reducing the risks for many chronic disorders, including certain cancers, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders. Start by upping your consumption of the best gut health foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts for prebiotics; and yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut for probiotics. Secondly, add in moderate amounts of healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados. Third, add in lean proteins such as chicken, eggs, omega-3-rich fish, plant-sourced proteins, and even the occasional serving of lean red meat. Lastly, consider supplementing your diet with a synbiotic blend of prebiotics and probiotics, such as Eden’s, which is specially formulated to benefit your gut microbiome and all that goes with it — from digestive to metabolic to heart health and more.