I take my supplements whenever the bottle says to do so—for an inanimate object, the label is usually very bossy. That is, until I started to wonder if certain supplements work best at certain times—magnesium at night, for example, has been purported to help you sleep. With my probiotic, the one supplement I religiously take, I started to wonder if there was a perfect time to reap the optimal benefits of probiotics for gut health.
“Probiotics are bacteria that live in your body and provide a variety of health benefits,” says Sarah Greenfield, RD, education director at HUM Nutrition. “They play a role in mood, digestive health, and they [help] make certain vitamins,” such as synthesizing vitamin B12, she says. Gastroenterologist and internist Niket Sonpal, MD, adds that probiotics are “beneficial bacteria that help your gut digest food, breakdown nutrients, and level out harmful bacteria.” They can play a role in a lot of aspects of your health, from gut health to your mood. (As with any supplement, though, definitely talk to your doctor before trying probiotics!)
Interestingly, when you take your probiotics matters a great deal when it comes to reaping all of the above-mentioned benefits, says Greenfield. “In order to get the highest amount of probiotics from your capsule, taking them at the right time is important,” says Greenfield. That’s because that encapsulation of all that bacteria has to get into your stomach. “Probiotics have to survive your gut acids in order to establish themselves in the GI tract,” says Dr. Sonpal. “If the capsule or encasement doesn’t offer proper protection from stomach acids, it may not be effective.” And that would defeat the whole purpose of taking them. (Studies back this up.)
So…when should you pop your probiotic capsule? “Research shows that the best time to take probiotics is just before a meal or as you begin your meal,” says Lisa Richards, nutritionist and creator of The Candida diet. (This is an older study from 2011, but it’s one of the few that have looked at whether to take probiotics before, during, or after a meal.) “This is the time when your stomach environment is at its least acidic, because your body has not yet begun to produce stomach acid in large quantities to digest your food. Taking your probiotics at this time will make their passage to your gut a little easier, and ensure you get the most from those beneficial bacteria.”
However, Richards says the when-to-take aspect of probiotics depends on what type you opt for. “If your probiotic is enteric-coated or uses delayed-release capsules, it is more likely to survive stomach acid and so the exact timing is less important,” she says. If you’re taking a live strain probiotic supplement, “ideally you want to take them 20 minutes after you eat, first thing in the morning or right before bedtime,” Greenfield says. “This allows more of the probiotics to get into the large intestines where they will have the most benefits. If you are taking a soil-based probiotic, you can take them with food for most impact.” Not sure what kind you have? Dr. Sonpal says brands put that info on the packaging.
If you really want to, you can even split up your probiotics dose to rev up its impact on your gut. “If you’re splitting up your dose, it might make sense to take one half in the morning and one half in the evening to maximize the beneficial effect on your gut flora,” says Richards. Dr. Sonpal agrees, noting that taking probiotics this way won’t overwhelm your gut, and “it’ll help you assess your system’s reaction to the probiotic in increments instead of all at once,” he says. “It also gives your system the opportunity to adjust to the effect of probiotics at smaller doses.”
So, since the time itself doesn’t exactly matter—you don’t have to take them in the a.m. or p.m. specifically, just plan it around your meal times—Greenfield says the only downside to not taking them at one of these optimal times is that there would be a decrease in potency. But you really don’t want that, so stick with what the pros say for the sake of your healthiest gut ever.
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