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When’s the Best Time to Consume Probiotics?

Health + Wellness
Variety of fermented food korean traditional kimchi cabbage and radish salad. white and red sauerkraut in ceramic plates over grey spotted background. Natasha Breen / REDA&CO / Universal Images Group / Getty Image

By Anne Danahy, MS, RDN

Even if you've never taken probiotics, you've probably heard of them.

These supplements provide numerous benefits because they contain live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which support the healthy bacteria in your gut (1, 2, 3, 4).


Yet, you may wonder whether you should take them at a particular time.

This article tells you whether there's a best time to take probiotics.

What Are Probiotics Used For?

Kimchi is one fermented food that contains some of the live microorganisms in probiotics.

Pixabay

Probiotics can keep your gut healthy by preventing the growth of harmful organisms, reinforcing the gut barrier and restoring bacteria after disturbances from illness or medications like antibiotics (1, 2, 3, 4).

While they may also support a healthy immune system and oral, skin and mental health, research on these benefits is currently limited (1).

Some of the live microorganisms in probiotic supplements also occur in foods that are naturally cultured or fermented, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. These foods are linked to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight (5).

If you don't regularly eat fermented foods, you may want to consider taking a probiotic supplement (5).

Summary

Probiotics are live microorganisms that boost your gut health. Fermented foods contain some strains of these microorganisms, but if you don't eat foods like yogurt, kefir or fermented vegetables, probiotic supplements may be beneficial.

Does Timing Matter?

Some probiotic manufacturers recommend taking the supplement on an empty stomach, while others advise taking it with food.

Though it's difficult to measure bacteria viability in humans, some research suggests that Saccharomyces boulardii microorganisms survive in equal numbers with or without a meal (6).

On the other hand, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium survive best when taken up to 30 minutes before a meal (6).

However, consistency is probably more important than whether you take your probiotic with or without food.

A monthlong study found that probiotics caused positive changes in the gut microbiome regardless of whether they were taken with a meal (7).

Meal Composition May Help

The microorganisms used in probiotics are tested to ensure that they can survive various conditions in your stomach and intestines (1).

Nevertheless, taking probiotics with specific foods may optimize their effects.

In one study, survival rates of the microorganisms in probiotics improved when the supplement was taken alongside oatmeal or low-fat milk, compared with when it was taken with only water or apple juice (6).

This research suggests that a small amount of fat may improve bacterial survival in your digestive tract (6).

Lactobacillus probiotics might also survive better alongside sugar or carbs, as they rely upon glucose when in an acidic environment (8).

Summary

Though research indicates that more bacteria survive if you take probiotics before a meal, consistency is probably more important than specific timing when it comes to reaping the greatest benefits for your gut.

Different Types

You can take probiotics in various forms, including capsules, lozenges, beads, powders and drops. You can also find probiotics in several foods and drinks, including some yogurts, fermented milks, chocolates and flavored beverages (1).

Most probiotic microbes must endure digestive acids and enzymes before colonizing your large intestine (1, 3, 4, 9).

Probiotics in capsules, tablets, beads and yogurt tend to survive your stomach acids better than powders, liquids or other foods or beverages, regardless of when they're taken (10).

Furthermore, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Enterococci are more resistant to stomach acid than other types of bacteria (10).

In fact, most strains of Lactobacillus come from the human intestinal tract, so they're inherently resistant to stomach acid (8).

Consider Quality

Research shows that 100 million to 1 billion probiotic microorganisms must reach your intestine for you to experience health benefits (10).

Given that probiotic cells can die throughout their shelf life, make sure you purchase a reputable product that guarantees at least 1 billion live cultures — often listed as colony-forming units (CFUs) — on its label (9).

To maintain quality, you should use your probiotic before the expiration date and store it according to the instructions on the label. Some can be kept at room temperature while others must be refrigerated.

Choose the Right One for Your Health Condition

If you have a particular health condition, you may want to consider a specific strain of probiotic or consult a medical professional to find one that's best for you.

Experts agree that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains benefit most people (3).

In particular, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii may reduce your risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea, while E. coli Nissle 1917 may help treat ulcerative colitis (4, 9, 11).

Meanwhile, probiotics that contain Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces boulardii seem to improve symptoms in some people with constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and several types of diarrhea (2, 3, 4).

Summary

For a probiotic to work, its live microorganisms must reach your large intestine and colonize it. Look for a supplement that guarantees at least 1 billion live cultures on the label and ask your healthcare provider whether a particular strain is best for you.

Side Effects and Interactions

Probiotics usually don't cause major side effects in healthy individuals.

However, you may experience minor symptoms, such as gas and bloating. These often improve with time, but taking your probiotic at night may reduce daytime symptoms.

If you take a probiotic to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, you may wonder whether the antibiotic will kill the bacteria in your probiotic. However, strains designed to help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea won't be affected (4, 6).

Keep in mind that it's safe to take probiotics and antibiotics at the same time (1).

If you take other medications or supplements, it's best to discuss potential interactions with your healthcare provider. That's because probiotics may increase their effectiveness (12).

Summary

Probiotics may cause minor side effects, such as gas and bloating. Talk to a medical professional if you take other medications, as probiotics may amplify their effects.

The Bottom Line

Probiotics contain live microorganisms that can enhance your gut health.

While research indicates that some strains may survive better if taken before a meal, the timing of your probiotic is less important than consistency.

Thus, you should take probiotics at the same time each day.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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