Do You Really Need to Take Probiotics After Antibiotics?

Knowing the answer can protect your gut.

You may have wondered whether or not you should take probiotics after antibiotics. Perhaps you’ve read about this strategy or maybe your doctor recommended it. Either way, do you really know everything about the supplements you’re taking? Should you even take them in supplement form, or is food better? Read on to learn more about probiotics and antibiotics.

What are probiotics, anyway?

There’s a lot of buzz around probiotics. However, many people don’t exactly know what probiotics are. “Probiotics are part of what is known as our collective ‘microbiome,’ which is the community of bacteria in our gastrointestinal system,” says Kevin Gebke, MD, a family and sports medicine physician at Indiana University Health. Often deemed the “good bacteria,” probiotics include live bacteria and yeasts that keep your gut healthy.

Why take probiotics after antibiotics?

When you take antibiotics, they kill the “bad” and the “good” bacteria in your body, and this can cause a number of antibiotic side effects. Some people experience gastrointestinal side effects such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, and women can get vaginal yeast infections.

In the case of diarrhea, which is common when taking antibiotics, it’s referred to as antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). Analyses published in a 2017 issue of Antibiotics notes that “using probiotics for the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea reduces the risk of AAD by 51%,” adding that it’s also considered a safe method. Taking probiotics with antibiotics can help replenish the amount of “good” bacteria and help maintain your balance of “good” and “bad bacteria.

When you should take probiotics – and for how long

The data so far is unclear as to the best timing for taking probiotics so, for now, the choice is yours; you can take the probiotics before taking antibiotics or at the same time, says Dr. Gebke. “Patients can potentially avoid these known antibiotic-related complications with preemptive use of a probiotic to minimize the disruption in the body’s intestinal bacteria,” he says. It may also be wise to continue taking probiotics a few weeks after antibiotic use as your body continues to adjust. Of course, it’s always best to consult with your doctor to come up with a plan best for you.

Probiotic health bonuses

With or without antibiotics aside, probiotics are good for your overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, probiotics like kefir and yogurt may help improve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, boost your immune system, and reduce allergies and inflammation.

You can also change up your diet to include some naturally probiotic-rich foods. There are yogurt and kefir, but also non-dairy sources like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso. “Eating probiotic-rich food is preferable to taking a supplement,” says Dr. Gebke. “One of the reasons is that many probiotic-rich foods are also rich in vitamins and nutrition, which is another important component to overall well-being.”

Do your research

Not all probiotic supplements are considered equal. For example, the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that just because a specific kind of probiotic, Lactobacillus, helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any of the Bifidobacterium probiotics would do the same thing. Therefore, it’s important not to think of probiotics in terms of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Also, the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem.” In fact, some suggest that “the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of their proposed uses and benefits.” A recent study in the journal Cell found that probiotic supplements don’t always effectively colonize your intestinal tract. Be aware of commercials or products that sound too good to be true.

To make sure you’re getting the best, use a reputable brand. As always, speak with your doctor first, do research, and check trusted third-party reviews.

Sources
  • Kevin Gebke, MD, family and sports medicine physician, Indiana University Health.
  • Antibiotics: "Probiotics for the Prevention of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea in Outpatients—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."
  • Mayo Clinic: "An Introduction to Probiotics."
  • Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Probiotics: In Depth."
  • Cell: "Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT."
Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on August 15, 2019