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Live cultures are not medications and there are no specific contraindications which suggest that you can't take friendly bacteria with alcohol. However, alcohol may harm delicate live cultures, and populations of gut bacteria, so it is worth considering this if you're taking friendly bacteria supplements.
We’re often asked, ‘Can I drink alcohol if I’m on live cultures supplements?’ As mentioned above, there aren’t any specific interactions between live cultures and alcohol. But to fully answer the question, we need to explain a bit more about the effects of alcohol on the gut microbiome.
There’s some evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol can kill good bacteria and have negative effects on the delicate balance of the gut microbiome1,2. It is generally quite toxic to the body and places a strain on the body systems to process and excrete it. For more information about this subject, read this article, which explains more about the effects of alcohol on the gut microbiome, over on the Probiotics Learning Lab.
So, if you are taking live cultures as part of your daily health regime, the odd alcoholic drink, taken at a different time to your live cultures, should not be a problem. But if you’re taking live cultures and regularly consuming large quantities of alcohol, then you’re probably not helping your gut health or getting the best value from your friendly bacteria supplements!
Knowing that alcohol is likely to negatively affect the gut bacteria and the delicate live cultures in our supplements, it makes sense not to take friendly bacteria at the same time as an alcoholic drink. We recommend taking our supplements in the morning with breakfast, so we’d advise having any alcoholic beverages at least 4-6 hours later. This will give the live cultures time to pass through the digestive system and begin to establish themselves in the gut. Read more about the best time to take our live cultures.
Research is still in its infancy in this area, so there aren't yet any 'go-to' strains for alcohol drinkers; however there have been some encouraging results so far3. For now, if you know you're going to be having a few drinks, then it might be best to take one of our higher strength supplements, such as Optibac Every Day EXTRA, Taking a higher strength probiotic will introduce more friendly bacteria to the gut and this should help to complement the gut microbiome after a night on the town, but long-term, if you want to love your gut it's best to limit alcohol use and choose probiotic strains which have been researched for your individual health concerns. Read more about how different strains have different properties.
Ideally, no alcohol is ‘best’ for the gut microbiome, as all alcoholic beverages will have some negative effects on the gut. However, there’s some research to suggest that red wine contains compounds which may have some beneficial effects on the gut microbiota4. Red wine contains polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and are beneficial for gut health. So if you want to consider your gut when choosing your tipple, you might be best to opt for a glass of red!
For more information on this research, read this article about the effects of red wine on the gut, over in the Probiotics Learning Lab.
To sum up, if you are following a health regime and are keen to try and complement and maintain your gut bacteria, then alcohol consumption is a consideration. The odd glass or two occasionally in the evening should not have a huge impact on your gut microbiome, especially if you choose alcoholic drinks like red wine, which can give your body some nutrients. But if you take your live cultures with alcohol, or regularly consume several units of alcohol each week, then this may affect your gut microbiome and your live cultures.
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This FAQ has been answered by Kerry Beeson BSc (Nut.Med). Nutritional Therapist
1. Engen PA, Green SJ, Voigt RM, Forsyth CB, Keshavarzian A. The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):223-36. PMID: 26695747; PMCID: PMC4590619.
2. Wang SC, Chen YC, Chen SJ, Lee CH, Cheng CM. Alcohol Addiction, Gut Microbiota, and Alcoholism Treatment: A Review. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Sep 3;21(17):6413. doi: 10.3390/ijms21176413. PMID: 32899236; PMCID: PMC7504034.
3. Pfützner A, Hanna M, Andor Y, Sachsenheimer D, Demircik F, Wittig T, de Faire J. Chronic Uptake of A Probiotic Nutritional Supplement (AB001) Inhibits Absorption of Ethylalcohol in the Intestine Tract - Results from a Randomized Double-blind Crossover Study. Nutr Metab Insights. 2022 Jun 23;15:11786388221108919. doi: 10.1177/11786388221108919. PMID: 35769391; PMCID: PMC9234833.i:
4. Le Roy CI, Wells PM, Si J, Raes J, Bell JT, Spector TD. Red Wine Consumption Associated With Increased Gut Microbiota α-Diversity in 3 Independent Cohorts. Gastroenterology. 2020 Jan;158(1):270-272.e2. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.08.024. Epub 2019 Aug 28. PMID: 31472153.