Does Alcohol Kill Probiotics?
Over the past decade, probiotics and probiotic supplements have gained increasing popularity as a tool for supporting gut health.
There are many ways to get probiotics into our diet, including supplements, naturally-occurring food sources like kimchi, or fermented drinks like kombucha.
Unfortunately, just as many things destroy the gut-friendly bacteria contained within these products.
Alcohol, I’m sorry to tell you, is one of them.
- Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Probiotics?
- The Effect of Alcohol on Gut Bacteria
- The Amount of Alcohol You Drink Matters
- What About Probiotic Beers and Hard Kombucha?
- Which probiotic should I choose?
Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Probiotics?
Sure, you can drink alcohol while taking probiotics, but should you? It won’t cause a negative interaction, but it will compromise the efficacy of your probiotic supplement.
That’s because alcohol is terrible for gut health.
Drinking alcohol while taking probiotics is like hitting up McDonald’s after the gym.
It defeats the purpose.
The Effect of Alcohol on Gut Bacteria
Alcohol consumption has been linked to various digestive issues like alcohol-induced oxidative stress, “leaky gut,” inflammation, and tissue damage.
In large amounts and concentrated doses, alcohol can overwhelm the gastrointestinal tract, killing off many good bacteria in the gut.
This causes diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and dehydration.
Want to learn more? Here’s a great, brief video explainer:
The Amount of Alcohol You Drink Matters
Your probiotic regimen is probably fine if you are a light drinker who only consumes one drink here and there.
But for moderate to heavy drinkers or anyone who has multiple drinks in a single setting, the effects are much more concerning.
Once you drink more than a few drinks in a single setting, you’ve consumed enough to damage your gut flora and negatively impact your overall health and well-being.
Taking a probiotic supplement and going out to drink at a bar hours later is a waste of money. You’re going to kill off the beneficial gut bacteria.
How long after taking a probiotic can you drink alcohol?
If you must drink alcohol while taking probiotics, at the very least, space it out as much as possible. The general consensus is you should wait at least 4-6 hours before consuming alcohol.
Going to happy hour after work? Take your probiotic first thing in the morning.
This at least gives the good bacteria a fighting chance to reach your intestines and reproduce before you attempt to wipe them out with half-off margaritas.
Probiotics might actually help people struggling with alcohol dependence:
Probiotics and alcohol are such a bad combination because they have opposite effects on our bodies.
Alcohol triggers dysbiosis, creating changes to the intestinal microbial composition and loss of intestinal barrier function. This triggers an inflammatory response in the body that leads to liver damage (among other things).
Probiotics can help repair that damage. A recent study explored the potential of using probiotics as a therapeutic approach to treat alcohol-related disorders, such as ALD, by changing and restoring the composition of the microbiota-gut-liver-brain axis.
The study found that probiotics are effective in reducing dysbiosis, restoring normal microbiota, and decreasing the number of harmful bacteria that gets into the body, causing brain, liver, and systemic inflammation.
Even more excitingly, probiotics were found to decrease craving and alcohol consumption and have anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent alcoholic liver disease progression and establishment.
What About Probiotic Beers and Hard Kombucha?
A few years ago, researchers out of Singapore created a sour beer with probiotics that can withstand the hops acid that usually kills them off.
Similarly, we’ve also witnessed the rise of hard kombucha in recent years.
Although fermented, most commercial kombuchas contain only trace amounts of alcohol.
However, we now have boozier versions with upwards of 5% alcohol. Despite marketing claims, their actual probiotic content is, to put it nicely, debatable.
As Holly Lyman, founder of Wild Tonic, which brews alcoholic kombucha, so forthrightly stated to the Washington Post:
“Probiotics don’t like alcohol, period…We don’t pretend to have any probiotics in our high-alcohol [kombucha] because alcohol killed them. And we’ve done a lot of testing on products out on the market, and there’s not a lot of viable probiotics in even lower-alcohol versions, even though companies claim that there are.”
Most hype around “probiotic beer” stems from research from Professor Eric Claassen of Amsterdam University presented at an event hosted by a probiotic drink maker called Yakult. (eh-hem).
Even Claassen states that his findings should not be taken as carte blanche to drink heavily. Drinking more than a single beer in a day cancels any possible benefit you may have received. (And there is no scientific consensus on those alleged benefits.)
Other researchers, like Dr. Andrew Huberman, will tell you there is no safe amount of alcohol, even if they created a beer with probiotics that somehow survived the hops acid.
Bottom line: probiotic-infused alcohol is basically a gimmick.
Which probiotic should I choose?
Here’s the tricky part. Probiotics and gut health are very buzzy topics, and there is no shortage of products flooding the market to meet the demand.
How are you meant to separate the wheat from the chaff?
Because everyone’s digestive health and needs are unique, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to probiotics or gut health.
A person who eats a varied diet but struggles with IBS has different needs than a processed-food addict with constipation and bloating.
That’s why if you are experiencing complicated digestive issues, it’s best to consult with your doctor.
But if you don’t feel that’s necessary and want to start shopping for probiotics, here are a few things to look for, according to the experts:
- Look for products that contain the following live strains: Bifidobacterium spp., Lactobacillus spp., and Saccharomyces boulardii.
- Find a brand with at least 1 billion CFU per daily dose. You do not need to shell out extra for the pricier mega doses.
- Pay attention to storage requirements. Some probiotics are shelf-stable. Others require refrigeration. Pay attention to the instructions on how best to store your probiotics. Getting this wrong can impact their efficacy.
Which brand is best?
Honestly, this part is going to require research and trial and error. Healthline has a solid “best of” list that includes many reasonably priced household brands like Culturelle and Align.
You can also try a bespoke brand that focuses exclusively on health supplements. The probiotic from Elm & Rye is excellent and highly rated.
It is important to give your probiotic at least a month to prove its worth before trying something else.
Also, ensure your diet and lifestyle aren’t disturbing your probiotic’s efficacy.
Save your money if you consume more than one or two alcoholic drinks per week or eat a diet full of highly processed, low-fiber food.
Probiotics can support a healthy lifestyle, but they cannot overcompensate for an unhealthy one.