If you’re supplementing with probiotic strains, you’ve likely heard of prebiotics. Prebiotics are fibers and associated compounds that promote the growth and activity of probiotics. With substantial scientific support demonstrating synergistic therapeutic effects, many now wonder – can you take fiber supplements and probiotic supplements together? What about consuming prebiotic fiber-rich foods alongside daily probiotics? Let’s explore how prebiotic fibers and probiotics interact to improve health outcomes.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics have exploded in popularity in recent years, and with good scientific reason. The NIH defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (1). Researchers have identified scores of bacterial and yeast strains meeting probiotic classification. Still, the most extensively studied and clinically supported varieties fall into two genera – Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (2). When consumed through fermented foods or high quality supplements, these good bacteria colonize the gastrointestinal tract. Once established, probiotics modulate immunity, enhance pathogen displacement, improve digestive enzyme production, synthesize essential vitamins and minerals, defend against carcinogenesis and more (3). With profound whole-body benefits, it’s not surprising probiotics now comprise a multi-billion dollar industry.
Though generally safe, some individuals experience temporary side effects when first introducing probiotic supplements like bloating, gas or mild stomach pain. This discomfort usually subsides within several days after starting as populations stabilize. Some doctors may advise caution with probiotics in severely immunocompromised patients. Otherwise, probiotics demonstrate an impressive safety profile.
What Is Prebiotic Fiber and How Does It Affect Probiotics?
Prebiotic fiber offers “food” probiotic bacteria thrive on. By definition, prebiotics include indigestible carbohydrates that selectively stimulate growth or biological activity of one or several probiotic species (4). In essence, consuming prebiotics translates to eating nutritious fuel for our good gut bugs to flourish. Prebiotics occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. For example, raw chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, raw onion, raw garlic and unripe bananas contain particularly high levels (5).
But how exactly do prebiotic fibers boost probiotics? Research reveals several mechanisms:
• Acting Like Probiotic Fertilizer: Prebiotic fibers resist digestion until reaching the large intestine. There, probiotic species like Bifidobacterium contain specialized enzymes breaking complex carbohydrate chains into easily absorbable nutrients (6). Access to abundant, preferential nutrition enables certain probiotics to rapidly proliferate.
• Increasing Total Microbiome Diversity: In addition to single strains, prebiotics stimulate overall GI diversity, richness and stability by extracting nutrients from a multitude of carbohydrates (7). More varied communities enhance ecosystem homeostasis.
• Augmenting Production of Beneficial Byproducts: Thriving probiotic colonies generate valuable compounds like short-chain fatty acids and certain B vitamins essential to health. For example, butyrate protects intestinal barriers while folate regulates DNA synthesis and gene expression (8).
• Activating Immune Modulation: Prebiotics enhance probiotic signaling to intestinal immune cells. This communication provokes production of regulatory cytokines and antibodies that reduce inflammation while stimulating responses against pathogens (9).
Scientists continue uncovering unique mechanisms behind prebiotic and probiotic synergy. Still, research leaves little doubt – combining prebiotic fiber intake powerfully magnifies probiotic therapy outcomes.
Current Research on Joint Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplementation
Dozens of clinical studies report major therapeutic benefits when co-administering prebiotics with probiotic strains across diverse health conditions. For example:
● In overweight individuals, prebiotic fibers boosted Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria counts over just a probiotic alone. This led to enhanced insulin response, reduced appetite signals, decreased fat storage and lower inflammatory markers (10). The combination showed promise fighting central inflammation pathways underlying obesity and diabetes development.
● In patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the prebiotic galactooligosaccharide (GOS) enhanced growth of Bifidobacterium when paired with probiotics. Synergistic application lowered abdominal pain, bloating and alterations in bowel habits substantially more than either intervention alone (11).
● Adding a prebiotic fiber blend containing GOS and other polysaccharides to probiotic supplements accelerated dermatitis symptom resolution in children compared to placebos. Bifidobacteria counts tripled from integrative administration revealing enhanced growth as a possible mechanism (12).
This sampling of research exhibits profound synergistic potential when co-supplementing evidence-based prebiotic fibers and probiotics across diverse health conditions from gut disorders to diabetes and skindownturn. Notably, outcomes consistently surpass effects from either prebiotics or probiotics alone.
Can I Take a Prebiotic Supplement Alongside My Daily Probiotic?
Based on the research, coupling targeted prebiotic supplements with high quality, clinically backed probiotics stands as an incredibly wise, supported decision. But be discerning with prebiotic selections. Focus on natural fiber sources like acacia gum and wenge tree extract rich in gut-fortifying GOS rather than isolated, processed alternatives. Start slowly with prebiotic dosing, even at 5 grams daily alongside probiotics. Monitor symptoms as GI bacteria rapidly shift and increase fiber amounts accordingly to avoid discomfort.
Also, recognize prebiotics occur abundantly in whole, fibrous plant foods. While ultra-processed fare dominates Western diets, striving to incorporate more veggies, nuts, seeds, beans and low-glycemic fruits provides a package of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and natural prebiotics that synergize powerfully with probiotics.
Finally, some premium probiotic supplements contain added prebiotic fibers for built-in synergy in each serving. For example, SporeBiotic by Microbiome Labs unites breakthrough Bacillus spore probiotics with acacia gum and tapioca prebiotics for boosted effectiveness and delivery. This simplifies the synergistic supplementation process.
The Bottom Line
Extensive research illuminates prebiotic fibers as powerful growth accelerators and activators for probiotic supplements and commensal bacteria already inhabiting your GI ecosystem. Combining prebiotic and probiotic therapies enhances microbial community biodiversity and generates beneficial regulatory compounds improving outcomes across a multitude of health conditions. Based on clinical evidence, taking prebiotic supplements or focusing on whole food fiber sources perfectly complements probiotic regimens for amplified healing and protection. Consciously integrate more veggies, nuts, legumes and low glycemic fruits into your nutritional game plan. Target acacia, GOS and analogous prebiotics alongside evidence-based probiotics to unlock their full synergistic therapeutic potential!