Probiotics are a popular supplement, but it’s not always clear how they should be taken. In this article, we’ll discuss common frequently asked questions, like what time of day you should take probiotics, and whether they’re best taken with or without food.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that populate your gut microbiome. These “good” bacteria are an essential part of human health. They are there alongside other microorganisms that also normally live in the intestinal tract but are kept in line by the microbiome balance. When too many non-beneficial bacteria thrive, this imbalance can affect many aspects of health.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi. Because not everyone can consume fermented foods, probiotic supplements have become a major source of these beneficial bacteria.
Probiotic support for gastrointestinal and overall well-being is seen in many ways:
Your microbiome health relies on a balanced diet since the beneficial bacterial balance is heavily influenced by the foods you eat. Prebiotic fiber is found in many fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. This type of fiber nourishes the probiotics in your gut and helps them proliferate to maintain a healthy gut bacterial diversity. Fermented foods are also an excellent way to support your microbiome. Balanced sleep, exercise, and hydration are also necessary for a healthy gut. When your body gets run down, however, it can be more challenging for beneficial bacteria to thrive.
Most experts recommend taking probiotics before bed, although there have not been clinical trials that demonstrate this to be more effective. The best time of day to take probiotics is whenever you will be able to consistently take them.
A few studies have looked at when to take probiotics for optimal results, but none make definite conclusions.
Ultimately, there’s no definitive science on a single time or way to take probiotics for optimal outcomes. Consistency is the most important factor, although probiotics do not have to be taken at the same time every day to work.
As you fall asleep and rest for the night, your digestive system is able to relax from the process of breaking down food. This can allow your body to utilize the probiotic benefits more, since they may remain in your digestive system longer than if you took them before or in between meals during the day.
Since research tends to support the concept of probiotics taken before or with meals, taking them with your last meal of the day or a bedtime snack may be beneficial.
You should take your probiotics at a different time of day if:
Numerous studies have shown that probiotics have wide-ranging benefits. Probiotic supplements are primarily used to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract, balanced immune system, and for GI comfort during or after antibiotics.
Speak to your healthcare provider before you start probiotics. While they can support gut health, they also have the potential to interact with certain medications or health conditions. Only your medical provider can determine if probiotics are best for you.
Anyone who has an immune-related condition should check with their doctor first, since in some cases probiotics may not be advised.
Since dietary supplements are meant to offer support in addition to the foods you eat, mimicking the way that food-based probiotics are obtained may support your body’s recognition of the nutrients and how they’re put to use. Probiotic supplements taken just before or with meals may be put to better use in the body. There’s no definitive evidence to determine which meal of the day may be best, so follow your doctor’s advice.
There are a wide variety of supplements that contain different probiotics strains. Some are formulated with one strain, while others include multiple strains. Some formulations also include prebiotics, vitamins or minerals, and other nutrients.
Common types of supplements are probiotic blends or yeast-based strains. Blends tend to contain a combination of widely-studied strains that have been well-documented to be present in the human gut. Yeast-based strains (like Saccharomyces boulardii) may be helpful for people who want to avoid live bacteria.
When choosing a probiotic supplement, it is essential to consider quality, too. Look for a supplement that is third-party tested, non-GMO, and free from unnecessary “other” ingredients, like added sugars, coloring, or preservatives. Additionally, if you have specific dietary requirements (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.), check the label closely. Reputable companies clearly display these qualities on their products alongside the supplement information.
There are so many strains of probiotics that it may feel overwhelming. Choosing a strain that has been well-studied may offer the best chance for support, since researchers are more familiar with how they perform within the human body. The most researched strains for digestive and immune support are:
If your healthcare provider recommends a specific strain for a different reason, be sure to follow their recommendations.
The human gut may contain as many as 1,000 different bacterial species. When you supplement with a multi-strain probiotic, you may gain a synergistic effect as they interact within your microbiome. Researchers are continuing to explore this, but definite answers have not been reached, mainly because each human host’s body can respond slightly differently to multi-strain supplements. This is because the diversity of bacteria within your gut can be different from someone else’s based on genetics, environmental factors, diet, health conditions, age, and much more.
When researchers have directly compared the effects of single strains versus multi-strains, they found that, though both types work, it’s the specific nature of the strain that matters the most. A single well-chosen strain can be as effective as multiple strains. The study determined that in most cases, multiple strain formulations were not significantly more effective than supplements with only one strain.
Natural food sources of probiotics include:
Probiotics are an essential part of gut health. Whether you get them from food sources or supplements, the good bacteria in your gut rely on a balanced and diverse diet, rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Your gut has its own ecosystem, and multiple factors nourish it. When you want to support gut health, digestive wellness, and immune function, it’s important to remember that it’s a combination of all of these things that matters.