Given this, there are few factors that can help determine the best time to take probiotics.
- Lisa Richards, CNC, nutritionist and creator of The Candida Diet
- Megan Gerber, RD, LD, IFNCP, CGN, registered dietitian and founder of Grounded Nourishment
- Niket Sonpal, MD, New York-based internist and gastroenterologist
- Sarah Greenfield, RD, functional medicine dietitian and founder of Fearless Fig
- Supriya Rao, MD, quadruple board-certified physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine, and lifestyle medicine
When is the best time to take probiotics?
“Research shows the best time to take probiotics is just before a meal or as you begin your meal,” according to Lisa Richards, CNC, nutritionist and creator of the Candida Diet, which in turn increases their likelihood of surviving stomach acids—a hurdle that can prevent them from performing their job. “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,” says Richards. “Taking your probiotics at this time will make their passage to your gut a little easier and ensure you get the most from these beneficial bacteria.”
However, it’s important to mention that while some probiotic types are best taken on an empty stomach, others are better taken after eating a meal. For instance, according to Megan Gerber, RD, LD, INFCP, CGN, registered dietitian and founder of Grounded Nourishment, probiotics containing the Lactobacillus are typically best taken with food, while those containing Saccharomyces boulardii or Bacillus better survive without it. Gerber adds that spore- or soil-based probiotics, which she typically recommends to her clients, are ideally taken 30 to 60 minutes after a meal.
Intake suggestions may also vary according to the specific product you use. People can make the common mistake of overlooking manufacturer instructions, which if not followed, can also interfere with a supplement’s efficacy so it’s always wise to read the label—and moreover, talk to a medical professional to determine the best time to take a probiotic supplement.
Is it better to take probiotics in the morning or at night?
As for the best time of day to take probiotics, experts say that it is largely a matter of preference, though Gerber suggests taking it before bed when introducing a new probiotic supplement into your diet. “I tend to tell clients to take probiotics in the evening because sometimes a new probiotic can cause issues like bloating or gas as their bodies are assimilating to the probiotic,” she says. “I typically have people dosing at bedtime or around the evening hours so that they can be sleeping when those symptoms potentially uptick from the probiotic.”
Alternatively, you could opt to split up your probiotic supplement’s dosage across the day. According to Niket Sonpal, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, splitting up the dosage can also help individuals determine their body’s reaction to a particular supplement while mitigating any unwanted side effects. “It’ll help you assess your system’s reaction to the probiotic in increments instead of all at once,” he says.
Why timing—and quality—is important
There isn’t one right time to take probiotics, but there are certain times that are better than others to help ensure that the probiotic bacteria survive the journey to your gut—not to mention, establish themselves in the gastrointestinal tract—to have any effect.
Just as importantly, you’ll want to select high-quality probiotic supplements to further ensure prebiotic bacteria survival because unfortunately, many options on the market aren’t what they’re chalked up to be. “There are a lot of probiotics on the shelves without any literature behind them to understand the level of potency,” says Gerber. With this in mind, she says to purchase a reputable brand from a vendor or medical health care professional to ensure that the products meet quality standards and safety specifications. She also typically recommends capsule or liquid probiotic supplements as many probiotic drinks or gummies contain added sugars that can potentially inflame the gut. As such, she prefers products made with minimal ingredients.
When selecting a probiotic supplement, you might also want to consider an option that is contained within an enteric-coated capsule, which according to Greenfield, can help it withstand stomach acids. Conversely, “if the capsule or encasement doesn’t offer proper protection from stomach acids, it may not be effective,” says Dr. Gonpal.
When should you avoid taking a probiotic supplement?
While taking a probiotic supplement can benefit your gut health, there are instances in which individuals may want to avoid it. Gerber typically recommends against it if a client has been found to have a bacterial overgrowth in the gut, like SIBO, which can commonly manifest asIBS symptoms, like gas, bloating, and acid reflux.
What are signs that a probiotic is working?
If you are curious to know whether your probiotic is working, you might want to observe your bowel movements. According to Gerber, you should have regular, well-formed bowel movements with a texture akin to that of a banana. Another good sign that your probiotic is working is if you are experiencing less bloating, gas, and irritation in the gut, she says.
Safety and precautions for probiotic supplements
Probiotics can offer a ton of benefits, helping your gut “digest food, break down nutrients, and level out harmful bacteria,” says Dr. Sonpal, and as Greenfield adds, they can provide “a variety of health benefits” that extend beyond the gut, like improving mood and creating vitamins and other healthful nutrients in the body.
With that said, if you’re considering a probiotic supplement, Gerber underscores the importance of talking to a professional prior to introducing any supplement into their diet. “I would always recommend first talking with a doctor, a functional medicine provider, or functional medicine dietitian to discuss whether a supplement is right for you instead of experimenting with yourself,” she says.
Also consider fiber and probiotic-rich foods
Supriya Rao, MD, a quadruple board-certified physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine, and lifestyle medicine says that before adding a probiotic supplement to your diet, you might want to consider what you are putting on your plate first.
For one, Dr. Rao recommends eating high-fiber foods, which she adds, many people don’t have enough of, though important to gut health—and by extension, your gut microbes. “[Fiber] gets fermented by the bacteria in your gut, so if you are able to eat high-fiber foods, the probiotics in your gut themselves will restore themselves to balance,” she says. In addition, you’ll also want to ingest more probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi into your diet.
Gerber echoes this sentiment, adding that if you want to add more probiotic foods into your diet, you might want to opt for unsweetened fermented foods that are brined in salt rather than vinegar. She also says that those who want to get their probiotic drink fix (Think: yogurt or kefir) may also want to consider selecting a plain-flavored option without added sugar, as well as goat- or sheep-based dairy products that are easier to digest compared to cow’s milk. In any case, you’ll always want to select products that are sitting in the refrigerated areas of the grocery store, she says.
All in all, whether you opt for probiotic-rich foods, supplements, or both, just be sure to listen to your body in case discomfort arises.
- Tompkins, T A et al. “The impact of meals on a probiotic during transit through a model of the human upper gastrointestinal tract.” Beneficial microbes vol. 2,4 (2011): 295-303. doi:10.3920/BM2011.0022
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