The dizzying array of nutritional supplements can be confusing for those looking to optimize health while avoiding any adverse effects. Some pills, when taken with others, can have adverse health effects— while other combinations are perfectly harmless. By understanding how probiotics and vitamins function, one can determine if the two should be consumed together.
Probiotics technically mean,“pro-life,” as they are living bacteria. The book, “Bacteria for Breakfast” further explains that the term “bacteria” has a negative connotation, but our bodies are naturally full of bacteria. Technically, our bodies cannot function without a healthful dose of it! Think of bacteria as little soldiers whose duties are to break apart food. Probiotics, then, are like backup infantry—they are extra soldiers who help already-existing bacteria in the body break apart food.
Probiotics live naturally in some foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha tea. Probiotics are also in pill form, too, and can be purchased in the vitamin section of specialty stores like Whole Foods.
Vitamins keep the body nourished and running smoothly. Different vitamins help different parts of the body. Vitamin A, for example, improves eyesight and keeps nails and skin healthy. Vitamin D keeps bones strong, and Vitamin C helps iron absorption. The book, “The Detox Strategy” defines how vitamins and minerals act as catalysts for all body reactions: While the body gets fuel from sugars in food, it can only utilize these sugars with the aid of vitamins. Vitamins, like probiotics, are found naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables, but can also be purchased at grocery and drug stores.
How vitamins and probiotics interact is best explained with a metaphor. Think of probiotics as an auto-parts worker: They take apart cars and separate the good working parts (vitamins and carbs) while sending the rest to be scrapped (like water and insoluble fiber, which are excreted). Vitamins are helpful auto parts that get reused by the body. Once the vitamins are separated in the digestive process by probiotics, vitamins are put to work where they are needed: Vitamin D is for bone repair, while vitamin A works on eye and skin maintenance and so on.
From this analogy, vitamins and probiotics actually work well together; both accomplish important, but separate roles. They only meet during the digestive process. Vitamins do not impede the role of probiotics, just as probiotics do not hamper the potency of vitamins.
To induce this beneficial interaction between vitamins and probiotics, it is not essential to purchase probiotics and vitamins. This reaction occurs naturally when you eat: When the food enters the intestines, the body immediately filters what it needs from the food and excretes the rest. Expensive pills do not create this process. However, if you do not have a healthful diet full of foods containing nutrients like fiber and healthful bacteria, your body may have a more difficult time with digestion. Similarly, if your body breaks apart food and finds few vitamins to ship to other areas of the body, your overall health will decline.
You cannot overdose on probiotics. In continuation with the auto-factory analogy, too many workers are redundant but not harmful. Nonetheless, consuming too many probiotic-rich foods like cottage cheese might be harmful for other reasons, like high cholesterol or high fat and calorie intake. Therefore, eat these foods in moderation and do not overconsume them just because you feel as if your body “needs” probiotics.
It is possible to overdose on vitamins, though. Such vitamins that the body can store for a long time (like vitamins A, D, and K) can cause adverse effects if too much is present. While overdoses are rare, consuming more than one multivitamin a day can cause more harm than good. For information on the effects of vitamin overdose, see Resources below.