The human body is packed with trillions of tiny little organisms (microbes or bugs, if you will) that make up what is known as the microbiome. Some are good, some are bad, and they’re all supposed to be there. This gut landscape is essential to your well-being. Ideally, there is always a healthy balance between the beneficial flora and the bad bacteria in your body. When you are sick, pathogenic bacteria can flourish and the result is a system that is out of order. By increasing the amount of good bacteria in your body, your system returns to the state of gut diversity necessary for good health.
One of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy microbiome is to eat a diet that is diverse, nourishing, and nutrient-dense. That may look a little different for everyone, but generally speaking, that means:
It’s also important to limit sugar, sweeteners, and processed foods, mainly because they take up space that diverts from more nutrient-dense choices. They may also feed pathogenic bacteria in the gut, depending on your microbiome and overall health.
Probiotic supplements are also a popular way to nourish gut health. They can be used in addition to all of the above. Probiotics can be formulated with a variety of different beneficial bacteria or yeast-based organisms that naturally exist in the body. The idea is that supplementing can bolster your body’s existing population of these supportive organisms.
Probiotics can support gastrointestinal health and immune system wellness. Between 70 and 80% of your immune system’s cells exist in the gut. When the microbiome is diverse and functioning optimally, this can play a major role in your everyday digestive function, nutrient absorption, metabolism, immune defense, hormonal balance, and detoxification mechanisms, including healthy bowel movements and waste elimination.
Many probiotic supplements include prebiotics, which are a specialized type of fiber that nourishes the good bacteria that populate your gut. When probiotics are combined with prebiotics, it is referred to as a synbiotic supplement. There are benefits to taking them together or separately. Either way, your healthy gut relies on plenty of good bacteria and nourishment to help it thrive.
Your gut plays a major role in nutrient absorption. Most absorption takes place in the small intestine. If your stomach isn’t producing adequate hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to break down your food into a ready-to-absorb state, what you eat will enter the small intestine poorly prepped for the absorptive phase. Microbiome imbalances—like when you have an imbalance between good and bad bacteria, or when you have bacteria that migrates to parts of the digestive tract where it doesn’t belong—can also hinder optimal nutrient breakdown and absorption.
Your body needs a healthy gut, from start to finish, for healthy nutrient absorption.
Other factors, like the form of a nutrient, can also play a role in how much your body is able to absorb. The best supplements supply nutrients in bioavailable forms, which means that they can be readily broken down and utilized for their purpose without many extra biochemical steps required. For example, vitamin C comes in many forms, but it works best when it enters the body with the other phytochemicals that are typically found in vitamin-C-rich foods. Care/of formulations use vitamin C made from acerola cherries, with the natural phytochemicals left intact thanks to our unique process that is free from chemicals and solvents. This preserves those vital phytonutrients and encourages optimal nutrient recognition and use in the body.
A healthy gut is foundational for digestion and absorption and yes, research has found that probiotics can enhance how well the body is able to absorb nutrients. Probiotics support overall beneficial microbial balance, which can help to maintain gut barrier integrity and support normal absorption activity in the small intestine. These good guy gut microorganisms also perform a number of important activities that have a direct effect on nutritional status, such as:
There is no evidence to support the theory that the effectiveness of either probiotics or vitamins diminishes when taken in tandem. The most important thing to remember when taking probiotics, whether with vitamins or not, is to take them consistently. Some sources suggest taking probiotics either on an empty stomach (at least 30 minutes before eating) or at least two hours after a meal. This is when stomach acid levels are lowest and least likely to impact the effectiveness of a probiotic supplement. Most formulas are made to withstand the acidic environment of the digestive system.
There is no positive or negative impact on taking an iron supplement and probiotics together. In fact, some probiotic strains (Lactobacillus plantarum Lp299v) have been associated with enhanced absorption of iron. However, iron can sometimes lead to an upset stomach, so it is often recommended that iron be taken with food, not on an empty stomach. Care/of’s Iron supplement has been formulated with vitamin C to enhance absorption.
Either way, iron can be taken with probiotics, and some probiotics can even be taken without food. Since there are many strains of probiotics, consult your physician or a registered dietitian to be certain you are taking the best probiotic for your needs.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is responsible for more than 300 reactions in the body. It helps maintain healthy bones, encourages muscle function and recovery, and supports healthy sleep. It has also been shown to play an important role in the gut-brain axis.
Magnesium can be taken at the same time as probiotics, and some research indicates that probiotics can have beneficial effects on the bioavailability of minerals.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that can be taken at the same time as probiotics. Some research notes positive effects of intentionally pairing them, both for enhanced vitamin D absorption as well as for improved lactate utilization in athletes.
A decade ago, the internet lit up with fear that vitamin C might destroy probiotics in the stomach. But like many things that cause chaos online, it turned out to be false. In fact, some research found that pairing the two had positive effects for healthy seasonal respiratory responses and overall immune function. Either way, you can take these two together without worrying that one will cancel the other out.
Only your healthcare provider or pharmacist can advise how to take antibiotics that have been prescribed for you. However, the general rule is to take antibiotics separately from anything else, leaving 2 hours between them and other medications, vitamins, or minerals, and at least 6 hours between antibiotics and probiotic supplements.
There has been some discussion on the positive impacts of taking probiotics at the same time as omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil supplements, but more clinical research is required to substantiate this idea.
There are numerous strains of probiotics, each of which could potentially respond in a different way to any individual human gut microbiome. Given that, and the number of medications in existence, it’s not possible to provide a definitive answer.
If you take any medication, it is important to be sure that your healthcare provider and pharmacist are aware of everything that you take, including over-the-counter medications, herbs, vitamins, and any other supplements. That way they can be sure to help you avoid problematic interactions and advise you on the safest and most effective way to consume your medications and supplemental nutrients.
Gut health is a foundational aspect of human well-being. There are many ways to nourish a healthy gut, from food intake and healthy digestive function to supplements like prebiotics and probiotics. Because there are so many different probiotic formulations, strains, and combinations, only your healthcare provider can tell you what is best for your particular needs.