March 11, 2020
What's the Best Time to Take Probiotics?
Probiotics — aka the good bacteria in your gut — are all the rage in the health and wellness industry. And for good reason. Science shows us that probiotics have many potential health benefits, from improving digestion and strengthening the immune system to producing important vitamins that your body needs. They can also help ease constipation symptoms and restore digestive health. But what's the best time to take probiotics? Science has an answer. Read on to discover how probiotics can improve your health, why timing matters, and what the best time is to take your probiotic supplement.
How Probiotics Can Help Your Health
The benefits of probiotics are wide-ranging. First and foremost, probiotic bacteria can help your digestive system. In particular, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two probiotic bacterial strains that help populate the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria, and reduce harmful bacteria (1). Here are some of the other potential health benefits of taking probiotics.
Relief From IBS SymptomsMany scientific studies show that probiotics can help prevent bowel diseases and manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain (2). If you’re struggling with digestive issues, probiotics can help.
Immune-Boosting Properties and MoreThese healthy bacteria can boost the immune system, restore the balance of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Probiotics can also improve skin and oral health, and alleviate postmenopausal disorders, including vaginal infections. They might also prevent cancer, and improve lactose metabolism (1).
Mental Health and ClarityProbiotics are linked to improved mental health. Scientists are starting to explore probiotics as a treatment for depression and anxiety. One study found probiotics improved mood, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and cognition (3). However, more research is required to confirm whether or not probiotics would be a good option to treat depression. You can add probiotics to your diet by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating more probiotic foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha. For optimal gut health, consider supporting probiotics with prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of indigestible fiber that act as a food source for probiotics. Prebiotics support a healthy intestine and digestive system by encouraging friendly species of gut flora to grow. However, these useful compounds are lacking in many Western diets. Talk to your doctor about adding prebiotics to your diet. Pro tip: If you’re struggling with leaky gut, consider going beyond prebiotics and probiotics and supplement with L-glutamine.
When It Comes to Probiotics, Does Timing Matter?
If you’ve ever looked at the instructions on different probiotic supplements, you may be feeling a bit confused about what the best time is to take probiotics. Some brands say to take probiotics on an empty stomach, while others advise to take them with a meal. Meanwhile, others specify that you should take probiotics right before or after a meal (4). This begs the question: Does timing matter when it comes to probiotics? Research shows it does.
What Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics?When you take your probiotic supplement makes a difference. A 2011 study in the journal Beneficial Microbes states that the best time to take probiotics is during or just before eating a meal, specifically one that contains fat. Researchers looked at the survival rates of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They found that probiotic bacteria survived best when taking the supplement with a meal or 30 minutes before a meal. Also, more bacteria survived when the meal was oatmeal and 1% milk (i.e. it contained fat), compared to apple juice or water, which did not contain fat (4). A separate study found that Lactobacillus bacteria survived better in an acidic environment when glucose levels were high (5). (Remember, your stomach is an acidic environment, with a pH of around 1.5-3.5.) As such, it might be beneficial to eat high-glucose carbohydrates and fruits with your probiotic along with fat. Some examples include grapes, honey, potatoes, and rice. Other studies show that probiotic delivery also matters. Researchers found beads, capsules, and tablets are superior to powders and liquids in terms of their ability to survive stomach acid (6). While there doesn’t seem to be a single “best time of day” to take probiotics, there are certain foods that seem to optimize their health effects. When it comes to a healthy gut, taking probiotics (at any time of the day) is better than not taking them at all. Some research shows that taking probiotics before or during a meal is ideal. But if this doesn’t work with your lifestyle, you can take your probiotic supplement at a time that’s convenient for you.
How Many Probiotics Should You Take?
When it comes to how many probiotics you should take for optimal health, the answer isn’t crystal clear. One scientific study found that “at least 100 million to 1 billion viable probiotic bacteria must reach the intestine for health benefits to be achieved” (7). Viable means living. While probiotics are living organisms, bear in mind that they can die during processing, packaging, and while on the store shelf. Look for a product that guarantees a certain number of “live cultures,” or “colony-forming units” (CFUs) at the end of the product’s shelf life, rather than at the time it was manufactured (8). On the other hand, the World Gastroenterology Organization (WGO) says it’s impossible to state a general dose of probiotics since dosage varies depending on bacterial strain and product (9). However, they do provide recommended probiotic doses for different health conditions. For example, the WGO recommends adults treat acute diarrhea with one billion CFUs of Lactobacillus paracasei B or Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG twice a day (9). Bacterial strains and dosages differ for different conditions.
Do Probiotics Have Side Effects?
Probiotics, especially Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are generally regarded as safe. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health, since most probiotics come from food or are found naturally in the gastrointestinal tract, they are “unlikely to cause harm” (8). Probiotic side effects are often minimal if they appear at all. Minor digestive issues, such as gas and bloating, may occur with probiotic use in healthy individuals (8).However, once your body adjusts to the probiotics, these digestive issues should clear up. If you have an underlying health condition, a compromised immune system, or take medication, be sure to consult your doctor to determine whether probiotics are right for you. While the medical and scientific communities don’t currently know of any medications or supplements that negatively interact with probiotics, it’s best to seek medical advice to be sure (10). The World Gastroenterology Organization also lists specific probiotic strains and dosages for a variety of health conditions, from diarrhea to liver disease to IBS and more, which you may want to review (9).
The Bottom Line: The Best Time to Take ProbioticsProbiotics are the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract. They can have a wide range of benefits on your overall health and well-being, from improving digestion and easing constipation to supporting your immune system and producing essential vitamins. Probiotics also show promising results for mental health, specifically in their ability to ease depression and anxiety. When it comes to the best time to take probiotics, the instructions on probiotic supplements vary — but science has the answer. Studies show that it’s best to take probiotics during or just before a meal. It’s also best if that meal contains fat and glucose, as more probiotic bacteria will survive if taken alongside these foods. You may want to work with a nutritionist to develop a personalized probiotic food plan. Probiotics are considered safe and come with virtually no side effects apart from gas and bloating. However, you should always speak to your healthcare provider before adding a new food or supplement to your diet, particularly if you have an autoimmune condition or have other underlying health issues. Want the latest tips on both digestive and overall health? Sign up for our email list and receive exclusive health tips straight to your inbox.
Fact checked by Carla Cargano on 03/11/2020 and written by Carla Gargano