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Alcohol and Medications

Can You Take Probiotics With Alcohol?

Published:
August 31, 2023
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 31, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
August 31, 2023
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20 min read

You’re probably seeing them everywhere: advertisements and commercials for probiotics — the “miracle” supplement for improving digestion and enhancing our overall health. You’ll find whole sections dedicated to probiotic supplements in pharmacies, grocery stores, or any other health and wellness center. 

But what, exactly, are probiotics — and is it okay to drink alcohol with them? In this post, we’ll explore how consuming alcohol affects our gut health and whether it’s a good idea to mix alcohol with probiotics. We’ll also shed light on some of the best probiotic sources and offer tips for maintaining a healthy gut. Let’s get started!

What Are Probiotics? 

Before we look at whether it’s ok to take probiotics with alcohol, we need to understand what probiotics are. Simply put, probiotics are beneficial living microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts, that naturally reside in our body. While we often think of bacteria as bad, some types of bacteria are actually good for us, helping to keep our body healthy and working well. 

Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that play a vital role in helping us digest food, fend off disease, and even create vitamins. Trillions of them reside in our digestive tract, otherwise referred to as our “microbiome.”

Sometimes, our microbiome becomes unbalanced, with too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. This can happen due to illness, obesity, medication such as antibiotics, mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and other issues. 

While we can get some probiotics from certain foods, probiotic supplements can help restore the delicate balance of gut bacteria that we need to feel well and stay healthy. In fact, more and more research shows that probiotics play an instrumental role in helping maintain a healthy gut. 

The Health Benefits of Probiotics 

Let’s get more specific: what can probiotics do that make them so beneficial? Research is ongoing, but multiple studies have already shown that a healthy microbiome may prevent and treat diseases in many realms: digestive health, yeast infections, oral disease, food allergies, and eczema. 

Here’s a closer look at 6 of the potential benefits associated with probiotics:

  1. Improved digestive health: Studies show that probiotics may help reduce diarrhea caused by things like antibiotic use, cancer therapy, and hospital infections. Similarly, research shows that certain strains of probiotics may also decrease the incidence of chronic digestive disorders like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Furthermore, some studies suggest probiotics can help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 
  2. Allergy prevention: Research indicates that probiotics may be beneficial for allergy prevention. Studies have found that if a mother consumes probiotic-rich food while pregnant, she may reduce the child’s risk of allergy symptoms, such as skin rashes (eczema), nasal congestion, and watery eyes. 
  3. Improved mood: A number of studies have linked gut health to mood and mental health. For instance, researchers have found that supplementing with bifidobacterium and lactobacillus strains for 1-2 months can improve anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and memory. Supplementing with probiotics has also been shown to reduce stress levels.
  4. Improved weight loss: Probiotics may also help with weight loss through a number of different mechanisms. For instance, some probiotics prevent the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine. The fat is then excreted through feces rather than stored in the body. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that using a probiotic supplement was associated with decreases in body mass index (BMI), weight, and fat mass.
  5. Reduced cancer risk: Researchers believe that probiotics may play a role in reducing  cancer risk. Animal studies have shown that probiotics decrease the enzyme activity of bacteria that produce cancer cells, potentially reducing the risk of liver, colon, and bladder cancer. However, more research is needed on humans. to determine the effectiveness.
  6. Healthier skin: Studies have shown that using probiotics topically, on our skin — our largest organ — can be useful in the treatment of many inflammatory skin diseases. These include acne, rosacea, and psoriasis. Topical probiotics also seem to aid in wound healing, although more research is needed.  

Is It Ok To Drink Alcohol While Taking Probiotics? 

So now that we know what probiotics are and why they’re so important, we can turn to the next question: is it ok to drink alcohol while taking probiotics? In principle, yes. Probiotics are not an over-the-counter medication or prescription drug, so there aren’t any potential harmful interactions or side effects. 

However, in practice, it’s a bit more complex. Alcohol kills the good bacteria in our gut — and it can also kill the probiotic bacteria in supplements. Combining the two can be counterproductive. Let’s take a closer look at 4 ways that alcohol affects our gut microbiome:

  1. Disrupts gut bacteria balance: Consuming alcohol can disrupt the balance of bacteria in our gut, decreasing beneficial bacteria and increasing harmful ones. Alcohol, a toxin, kills many of the beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines. This imbalance can lead to gut dysbiosis, an unhealthy shift in the gut microbiome that contributes to a range of problems.

    For instance, an imbalance in the gut microbiome can weaken our immune system, leading to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. A gut imbalance can even affect our mental health, with research showing that changes in its composition can affect brain function and behavior. In fact, gut microbiome imbalances have been linked to conditions such as depression and anxiety. 
  2. Damages gut lining: Alcohol also damages our gut lining, which is a critical barrier separating the contents of our gut from the rest of our body. When our gut lining is compromised, it leads to “leaky gut,” a condition in which toxins and harmful substances leak into our bloodstream. This leads to inflammation and a host of other health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Research also shows that “leaky gut” may contribute to mood disorders, acne, and arthritis. 
  3. Prevents nutrient absorption: Alcohol can interfere with absorption of key nutrients in our gut, such as vitamins and minerals. This is often why heavy drinkers have nutrient deficiencies, such as B vitamins, which can impact overall health and well-being. Some of the more common nutrient deficiencies associated with prolonged alcohol use include vitamin B1 (thiamine), folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc. 
  4. Slows gut motility: Alcohol is known to slow gut motility, the rate at which food moves through our digestive system. This can make it more difficult for our body to remove waste, leading to digestive problems and changes in bowel movements. High alcohol content beverages in particular can impair gut motility. 

The bottom line? If we’re taking probiotic supplements, drinking alcohol will essentially compromise their efficacy.

Image showcasing probiotic sources: yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso soup,kombucha,pickles,natto and tempeh

How Much Alcohol Is Harmful?

So does any amount of alcohol kill the good bacteria, or is it only excessive amounts? Is there an amount to drink that lets us enjoy our drink while not harming our gut microbiome? While the occasional alcoholic beverage likely won’t hurt, repeated heavy drinking can lead to more profound effects on our gut microbiome and affect our overall health and well-being. 

One study found that individuals who consumed excess alcohol had reduced bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and enterococci bacterial strains — all of which are important for gut health. Even so, it’s worth noting that just one night of binge drinking can be harmful, disrupting the delicate ecosystem of our gut microbiome. 

Similarly, the timing of our probiotics can also make a difference. If we do choose to drink, it’s recommended that we take probiotics at least several hours before consuming alcohol. This theoretically allows the good bacteria to colonize our gut and reproduce. If we consume alcohol and then take probiotics, the beneficial bacteria might be killed off by the alcohol and not survive the journey to our gut.

What Probiotic Strains Can Help Restore the Gut?

Let’s say you had a night out and ended up consuming more alcohol than you would have liked. Can particular probiotic strains help us replenish the healthy bacteria that was killed by alcohol? 

While probiotics are by no means a cure-all, research indicates that two strains can help restore bowel flora and improve alcohol-induced liver issues: Bifidobacterium bifidum and lactobacillus. These two strains have been found to reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the gut and improve the overall balance of gut flora. They can also play a role in improving liver enzymes that may be affected by alcohol consumption. 

But this doesn’t mean we have a free pass to drink alcohol! It’s important to keep in mind that alcohol can have harmful effects on our physical health and mental well-being — even in small doses.

What Are the Best Sources of Probiotics? 

While taking probiotic supplements can be beneficial, our body benefits most from getting natural sources of probiotics in food. Here are 9 probiotic-rich foods:

  • Yogurt: Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. It’s made from milk fermented by probiotics, mainly lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. However, processing can sometimes kill live bacteria, so not all yogurt contains live probiotics. Make sure to choose yogurt with active or live cultures, and try to avoid yogurt with high amounts of added sugar.
  • Kefir: Kefir is a fermented probiotic milk drink. It has a number of health benefits, such as improved bone health, digestion, and protects against infections. Kefir may be a particularly good option for those with lactose intolerance. It contains several major strains of good bacteria and yeast, making it a diverse and potent probiotic source. 
  • Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is a finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. In addition to being rich in probiotics, it’s a good source of fiber, vitamins C and K, iron and potassium.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh, a fermented soybean product, is a popular, high protein substitute for meat. It’s full of probiotics and contains some vitamin B12, which we typically get from animal products. 
  • Kimchi: Kimchi is a fermented, spicy side dish. Cabbage is usually the main ingredient, but it can also be made from other vegetables. It contains the bacteria lactobacillus kimchi and other lactic acid bacteria that are beneficial for digestive health. 
  • Miso: Miso is a Japanese seasoning that is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called koji. It’s a great source of probiotics, protein, and fiber, and it’s high in various vitamins and minerals.
  • Kombucha: Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink that is fermented with bacteria and yeast, making it full of probiotics.
  • Pickles: Pickles are cucumbers that have been fermented using their own naturally present lactic acid bacteria. Pickled cucumbers are a great source of healthy probiotics, and can help improve digestive health.
  • Natto: Natto, a fermented soybean product, is similar to tempeh and miso. It contains a bacterial strain called bacillus subtilis. It’s also rich in protein and vitamin K2, which is important for bone and cardiovascular health. 

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Gut 

In addition to limiting our alcohol consumption and consuming probiotic-rich foods, there are many things we can do to support a healthy gut microbiome. Here are 3 tips:

  • Stay hydrated: Hydration is good for our overall health, as water helps support nearly every bodily function, from temperature regulation to digestion. In fact, toxins and waste are more efficiently removed from our system when we are well-hydrated. Water also helps mitigate inflammation, especially in the gut. Aim to consume at least six 8-oz glasses of water a day, more if you’re physically active. 
  • Manage stress: Stress does a number on mental and physical health, including wreaking havoc on our microbiome. In fact, studies show stress can actually change our gut’s acidity and alkalinity, disrupting the balance of good and bad bacteria. Try incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or journaling
  • Get moving: Research shows that regular physical activity can stimulate gut motility, preventing constipation and aiding in digestion. Even just a short exercise walk can be beneficial. Experts recommend getting around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, which can be broken up into smaller chunks each day. 

The Bottom Line

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeast that help keep our body and gut healthy. Consuming alcohol while taking probiotics is counterproductive, as it kills the good bacteria already in our gut as well as the good bacteria in our probiotic supplement. The more alcohol we consume and the more frequently we drink, the more our gut microbiome will be disrupted. While probiotic supplements can be beneficial, we may reap more benefits by incorporating natural, probiotic-rich foods into our diet. 

If you want to cut back on your alcohol intake and start restoring your gut, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their overall health and well-being. 

Summary FAQs

1. What are probiotics? 

Probiotics are beneficial living microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts, that naturally reside in our body. They play a vital role in balancing our gut microbiome and keeping our body healthy. We can get probiotics from the foods we eat or by taking a probiotic supplement.

2. What are the health benefits of probiotics?

Researchers find probiotics may help improve digestive health, contribute to weight loss, improve mood, and prevent allergies. They’ve also noted a possible link between probiotics and reduced cancer risk, though more research needs to be done.

3. How does alcohol affect probiotics?

While drinking alcohol with probiotics doesn’t cause any harmful reactions, it’s largely counterproductive, as it kills the good bacteria already in our gut in addition to the good bacteria in our probiotic supplement. Alcohol can also damage our gut lining, prevent nutrient absorption, and slow digestion.

4. How much alcohol is harmful?

While the occasional alcoholic beverage likely won’t be harmful, repeated heavy drinking can kill good bacteria and disrupt the delicate ecosystem of our gut microbiome. 

5. What probiotic strains can help restore gut balance?

While probiotics are by no means a cure all, research has found that Bifidobacterium bifidum and lactobacillus can reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the gut and improve the overall balance of gut flora. They can also help improve liver enzymes that may be affected by alcohol consumption. 

6. What are the best sources of probiotics?

Probiotic supplements may be beneficial, but we may reap more benefits from consuming probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kombucha, pickles and natto.

7. How else can we maintain a healthy gut microbiome? 

Apart from limiting our alcohol consumption, staying hydrated, managing stress, and getting exercise are all good ways to support a healthy gut.

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