Can you take probiotics with antibiotics? The short answer: Yes, taking probiotics with antibiotics can actually be beneficial to you! Based on their names alone (probiotic and antibiotic), many are misled to believe that these two powerful medicinal tools would counteract each other. Right now, it’s our job to explain how taking probiotics with antibiotics can actually prove to be good for you even though they sound like they directly oppose one another. We are laying this common misconception to rest to let the truth come out.
Taking probiotics and antibiotics together can be beneficial to your health, but in order to understand how probiotics and antibiotics can work together, we need to understand the bacteria that live in our body and the gut microbiome.
Our Gut Microbiome
We are historically taught that bacteria is bad; however, bacteria can be extremely beneficial. In your gut, there are two types of gut bacteria: the good and the bad. Together, they contribute to the gut microbiome. The microbiota system in your gut is a complicated system made up of bacteria (good and bad), fungi (including yeasts), viruses, and protozoa 1. Each element of the microbiota yields immense power in our bodies and it is important to understand and reflect on how we should support or prevent each of their growth. For example, bad gut bacteria can be relatively harmless on their own, but it is when the bad bacteria outnumber the healthy gut bacteria in your system that trouble can arise.
When the good and bad bacteria in your gut are properly balanced, bacteria can help break down and digest food, communicate with your immune system, and keep inflammation at bay 2. The balancing act between good and bad bacteria in your body is happening all the time and a healthy balance is essential for your body’s overall health. Unfortunately, the balance of bacteria in our gut can get thrown off for many reasons. Although this can be distressing, there are a few key medicinal players that can help restore balance in our gut, namely antibiotics and probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and yeasts that live in your body 3. Probiotics are an essential part of the microbiome and help restore balance in your microbiota system. When you ingest probiotics, they act as “good” bacteria and facilitate the growth of beneficial bacteria to ultimately outnumber the bad bacteria in your gut. Commonly accepted benefits of probiotics include helping your body digest food, keeping bad bacteria from getting out of control and making you sick, breaking down and absorbing medications, and supporting the prevention of bad bacteria from food entering your blood. You can consume probiotics through a nutritious, fibrous diet rich in fermented food and drink like yogurt, pickles, or Kombucha, or you can take a probiotic supplement.
What Are Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are a staple in the medical universe. Technically speaking, an antibiotic is a substance that inhibits the growth and replication of a bacterium or kills it outright 5. Typically antibiotics are prescribed to eliminate a pathogenic bacterium—a bacterium that’s not supposed to be there and is causing the person to be sick 4. For starters, antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria, not viruses like runny noses, the cold, or the flu. Antibiotics actually kill specific bacteria and are used to alleviate common bodily problems caused by bacteria such as most ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, and urinary tract infections.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that are used to treat illnesses but tread lightly. Antibiotics have a lot of power to do good but if not used in the proper way, antibiotics can be the enemy to your good bacteria. One major problem with antibiotics is that they don’t just target the one pathogenic bacterium they are prescribed to eliminate. They also kill off a large portion of normal or beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract.
How Probiotics and Antibiotics Work Together
Probiotics and antibiotics don’t work against each other, they can actually team up to better your health. Here’s how: Antibiotics attack the bad bacteria but sometimes accidentally attack the good bacteria as well. Since probiotics add to the good bacteria in the gut, probiotics can be especially beneficial to maintaining good bacteria while using antibiotics. There are lots of studies collecting evidence of specific benefits one can have if they simultaneously take probiotics and antibiotics together and we will highlight two main benefits these studies have concluded.
When a doctor prescribes antibiotics, oftentimes they may tell patients to take probiotics for the entire course of treatment. There are multiple reasons for this recommendation, one main reason being the avoidance of diarrhea (1). A common type of diarrhea commonly linked to antibiotic prescriptions is AAD (antibiotic-associated diarrhea). Some research puts the incidence of AAD at somewhere between 2 and 20 percent for individuals taking antibiotics while other research claims that more than a third of patients taking antibiotics develop AAD and in 17% of those cases, AAD is fatal.
Probiotics appear to be effective in preventing and treating AAD in adults and children. Because of this, probiotics are often recommended to take during antibiotic treatment seeing that it may decrease the risk of AAD while taking antibiotics. Results from a study in 2017 concluded that taking probiotics while using antibiotics reduced the risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea by 60% (6).
Another common unwanted side effect of antibiotic usage is Clostridium difficile. C. difficile is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. C. diff is particularly interesting because it feeds off of a disruption of the normal microbiota system that often happens when someone is taking antibiotics. When c-diff senses a shift of environment and balance after the antibiotics illuminate a large portion of bacteria within the microbiota, it jumps on the opportunity to reproduce and grow its numbers. Like AAD, many studies point to probiotics as the superhero that can save the day. Studies show that taking probiotics could aid in the prevention of C. diff in people taking antibiotics.
The Bottom Line
So it’s settled! Both antibiotics and probiotics are powerful on their own, and when used together, they can benefit your overall health. Just be sure to take your probiotic and antibiotic at least two hours apart. Otherwise, the antibiotic can kill beneficial bacteria in the probiotic.