So you've done your research and you've shelled out for a probiotic with glowing recommendations from wellness experts. You work your way through the bottle, expecting it to transform your skin, mood, and athletic performance... but then, nothing?
Before you blame your lack of results on the probiotic itself, consider that there's definitely a "right" way to take these super-important supplements—and the rules can vary based on the formulation you're taking. Yes, it may take some time to troubleshoot what's going wrong, but health pros agree the payoff is well worth it.
“Taking probiotics can help increase digestive enzymes and [may] improve the absorption of water and nutrients,” says Karen Taylor, BSN, RN—the Senior Manager of Med Info, Education & Vigilance at supplement brand Biocodex. “They also help maintain a healthy, diverse balance of your own intestinal bacteria, which can enhance the breakdown of indigestible carbohydrates and starches.” (Translation: You'll max out the benefits of all the turmeric lemonade and Sweetgreen salads you're consuming.)
If you feel like your pricey supplements aren't really doing their job, consult the following list of common mistakes that people often make when taking probiotics—and prepare to discover what all the microbiome buzz is about.
Scroll down to find out if you're making one of the 5 most common (yet easily fixable!) probiotic mistakes.
1. Mistake: Selecting the wrong probiotic for your lifestyle
When shopping for a probiotic, think about your health needs and schedule.“Probiotic supplements can be found in many different forms, so you’re bound to find one right for you and your lifestyle,” says Taylor.
For example, if you’re constantly on the go, you’ll probably want to avoid a formula that requires refrigeration. Ignoring the storing instructions could affect the microorganisms in your probiotic, lessening its effect on you. Instead, consider a freeze-dried probiotic if you’re going to be taking it with your lunch salad at the office. “This process allows probiotics to be stored at room temperature while preserving an optimal level of living cells,” says Taylor. Alternatively, some probiotics come as powders that can be added to your breakfast smoothie—a great option for those who have a hard time remembering to take a pill.
It's also important to remember that different bacterial strains deliver different health benefits. Here's a guide to choosing the one that's best for your needs, from digestive issues to anxiety.
2. Mistake: Overlooking the instructions
Not all probiotics are the same, therefore each one may come with different directions for use. Ignoring the instructions on the bottle—which tell you how many pills to take, when to take them, and how—can hinder the effectiveness of your supplement and waste tons of your hard-earned money.
One big thing to look for is whether or not you need to take your probiotic with a meal. “Some must be taken with food to help buffer the harsh stomach environment, while other freeze-dried yeast probiotics survive with or without food,” says Taylor.
It's also important to take note of the expiration date on the bottle. If you haven't finished your supply by the date recommended by the manufacturer, your probiotics might lose some of their potency.
3. Mistake: Not getting enough fiber
Probiotics are only part of the gut-health puzzle. It's also important to consume plenty of fiber. “Maintaining a balanced, high-fiber diet with your daily probiotic helps ensure a flourishing diversity of good bacteria,” explains Taylor. “Adding high-fiber foods will help nurture your beneficial bacteria and provide them with the energy they need to help optimize your digestive balance.”
Just be sure to add it in slowly. Going from zero to 100 can overwhelm your gut and backfire, causing gas and bloating. (Not fun.)
4. Mistake: Being inconsistent
The best way to make sure your probiotics actually work is to take them at the same time each and every day. “Probiotics cannot work if you do not routinely consume them,” explains Taylor. Create a ritual that aligns with your probiotic and your daily schedule. For instance, if it needs to be taken with food, make sure to always have it with breakfast. If you’re going with a freeze-dried strain, set a reminder to take it as soon as you get to work.
Another key thing that affects consistency is the price of your probiotic—if you're spending half of your grocery budget on a month's supply, chances are you'll drop the habit as soon as you need extra cash for, say, a new pair of leggings. That said, Taylor says you should spring for the best quality probiotic you can reasonably afford. “Cost alone does not guarantee a good probiotic, but it’s important to note that the quality and value of a probiotic are often linked to high-quality manufacturing processes,” she explains. Look for brands that are GMP-certified (that stands for Good Manufacturing Practices) and that can back up their claims with double-blind research.
5. Mistake: Letting your wellness habits slide
Both diet and stress levels can have an impact on your digestive balance, gut flora, and general state of health, explains Taylor. And no, probiotics are not a magic bullet that will undo the effects of regular late-night French fry runs or a crazy workload. In order for them to work at their best, aim to be as consistent as possible with your other healthy habits.
Also, remember that medication—including antibiotics—can kill off your gut bacteria and prevent your probiotics from working properly. Not only might you need to double down on your probiotic intake when you're sick, but you should select a strain that can stand up to antibiotics, says Taylor. The good news? If you're taking your probiotics properly, you're less likely to get sick in the first place—all the more reason to make them part of your daily routine.
Start your day with these 5 healthy breakfast recipes that will heal your gut—and end it with these digestion-friendly sweet potato blondies.
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