How Many Prebiotics and Probiotics Do You Really Need?

How Many Prebiotics and Probiotics Do You Really Need?

By Jena Ellsworth

You’ve likely seen them at the store or added to food. But what is the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic, what do they actually do and how many do you really need?  (Spoiler alert….read more below as the guidelines for daily consumption for adult men is between 1-2 billion CFU’s daily, women is 5 billion CFU’s daily and children are advised to start at around 5 billion CFU’s daily as well.)


Prebiotics are essentially the food of probiotics. They're your food’s food! They are made up of carbohydrates, or insoluble fiber, that your body does not naturally digest but keeps your system regular. Insoluble fiber is found in some healthy foods that can help regulate your digestive system like seaweed, asparagus, dandelion greens, bananas and a whole lot more. Doesn't it sound great to eat fiber that helps your digestion? For instance, seaweed is a great source of prebiotic fiber. It can increase the population of friendly bacteria, block the growth of harmful bacteria, and enhance immune function.That's prebiotics!


Probiotics are essentially cultures of good bacteria or yeasts that you need in your body to be healthy. Probiotics do the majority of their good work within your gut. While introducing living cultures into your system may not sound like a healthy thing to do, you are already full of both good and bad bacteria. In fact, it is estimated that our bodies are home to over 100 trillion good bacteria alone!


When you get sick or an infection, there may be too much bad bacteria in your body. An imbalance of bad bacteria versus good bacteria can be a possible cause of certain health conditions like yeast infections, diarrhea and support autoimmune expressions such as eczema or dermatitis.  Probiotics are a good way to reintroduce good bacteria back in to create balance. Naturally occurring sources of probiotics can be found in things like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, sourdough bread and some cheeses.


There are a lot of foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics, but for a large majority of the population – including the portion of the population that is sensitive to dairy – it may be hard to get enough probiotics into your system on a regular day through food. That’s where we turn to supplements.


Supplements of prebiotics and probiotics are measured in colony forming units (or CFU’s). CFU’s show the number of living probiotic cells available at the time of manufacturing.


Manufacturers of different pre/probiotic supplements on the market include different amounts of CFU’s that usually range anywhere from 1 to 50 billion CFU per dose. However, just like with baking yeast, living cultures can die under the wrong manufacturing, capsule selection, storage and handling conditions.  So, while the amount of CFU’s on the label is correct when it is manufactured, if not manufactured, transported or stored correctly, when you take a dose, you may be consuming both living and dead cultures which is why it is important to purchase pre/probiotics from a reputable company.


If some cultures die, should you purchase supplements that have a higher CFU count? No.  It’s important to select the right probiotics good for the gut-brain axis as well as your body simply can’t use all the cultures you consume.


In fact, the guidelines for daily consumption for adult men is between 1-2 billion CFU’s daily, women is 5 billion CFU’s daily and children are advised to start at around 5 billion CFU’s daily as well.


Prebiotics and probiotics are like any other supplementary vitamins you can take. If you take too many, in general, your body cannot absorb them all and you end up expelling them from your system without absorbing them all which is simply a waste of money and bodily function.


For most vitamins whether they be fat soluble or water soluble, science suggests that if you take slightly more than what’s recommended, your body cannot absorb all of the vitamins present and they pass in your urine.


Water soluble vitamins include:

  • B vitamins including
    • Thiamine, or B1
    • Riboflavin, B2
    • Niacin, or B3
    • Pantothenic Acid, or B5
    • Pyridoxine, or B6
    • Biotin, B7
    • Folate, or B9
    • Cobalamin, or B12
  • Vitamin C

Fat soluble vitamins include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Unlike most water soluble vitamins, you are more likely to experience toxicity from higher than recommended doses from fat soluble vitamins as they are more easily stored in the tissues in the body.


Higher doses of CFU’s do not improve your health more quickly or give you greater health if you take more. Most supplements are not like vegetables where the general rule of thumb is the more the merrier and if you incorporate more vegetables in your diet, you’ll be a generally healthier person.


While most studies suggest that taking higher doses of CFU’s may not inherently damage your health and are safe for most people, taking too many in one dose may lead to uncomfortable gas, bloating or upset stomach as you try to digest and absorb their benefits.


Because prebiotics are essentially dietary fiber, these are similar side effects to consuming too much dietary fiber and underconsumption of water relative to fiber. That may explain why you may not feel your best when you take too high of a dose.


For that reason, most people are recommended to start with smaller yet still effective doses of CFU’s and track their side effects before increasing doses.

Always speak with your doctor or physician before taking any new supplements or beginning a new regimen. For most healthy adults, doses starting 5 billion CFU are safe and the most effective.


Prebiotics and probiotics are also the most effective when taken before a meal and are generally safe to take with other supplements. In fact, for most people taking supplements, taking them all at one time at a time of day that works best for you is a good way to remember to include them in your schedule instead of missing doses and days.


So, if you wanted to take an energy and immune boosting vitamin D3 with a prebiotic and probiotic supplement, you can get it all done in one shot to support feeling your best!


Consistency is key with all things related to health. You don’t increase overall muscle mass by going to the gym once a year; flexing your muscles more often and consistently is a far more effective way to see results. So too it is with supplements to notice changes in mood and boost and support brain and gut health.


As previously stated, consult with your doctor before taking any new supplements, no matter how much research you’ve done yourself. They can provide you with insights and recommendations that work best for your lifestyle and health history.

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