If you’re here, you have an inkling that a daily dose of healthy bacteria (aka probiotics) can go a long way toward improving your overall health. From their research-backed benefits of preventing diarrhea and relieving constipation to their more surprising ability to help clear acne and boost mood, it is clear that “good” bacteria (and a healthy gut) are integral to overall health. So it’s no wonder that so many of us are popping probiotic supplements.
But now that you’re taking one, you may find yourself wondering, what’s the best time to take a probiotic? You’ve heard that fat-soluble vitamins are better absorbed when you take them with food, but does the same hold true for probiotic bacteria?
Here, we set the record straight on whether or not there’s actually a best time to take probiotics and what other factors affect their effectiveness.
Does the timing of your probiotics matter?
Yes, timing does matter, but it’s only one piece in the overall puzzle of making sure probiotics are able to do their job well. Let us explain.
“With probiotics, it’s all about survival,” Vincent Pedre, M.D., gut health specialist and medical director of Pedre Integrative Health, told mbg. “These delicate microorganisms must survive several obstacles: the manufacturing process, shelf life, and (once you take them) the acid in your stomach environment to reach your intestines, where they do their job.”
To help ensure probiotic bacteria survival, you can do a few things: Take a high-quality, high-potency probiotic supplement (30 billion CFUs total of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, suggests Dr. Pedre), consider reputable brands that use enteric-coated or bioshield capsules that are more likely to withstand harsh stomach acid and release their contents within the small intestine, and take your probiotic supplement at a time of day when your stomach acid levels are naturally lower.
So, what’s the best time to take probiotics?
As mentioned above, timing is only one piece of the puzzle. But taking your probiotics when your stomach acid levels are lower can help ensure that more healthy bacteria survive and colonize the gut, where they can make a meaningful impact on your gut health and immune system.
So, when exactly is that? While day or night doesn’t really matter, a number of experts, including Dr. Pedre and David Perlmutter, M.D., advise taking probiotics on an empty stomach—your stomach churns out more acid to digest the food you eat, after all.
Research seems to support these recommendations as well, with one study finding that probiotics given 30 minutes before a meal or at the beginning of a meal were much more likely to survive than probiotics given 30 minutes after a meal, when digestion is in full swing.
Any side effects of taking probiotics at the wrong time?
Probiotics are very well-tolerated in most people, and timing them right is more about ensuring the survivability of these healthy bacteria than about avoiding side effects. So, whether you take a probiotic day or night, with or without food, you’re not likely to experience any major problems—at least not as a result of when you take them.
While anyone may experience some temporary gas and bloating when first taking a probiotic supplement, probiotics generally don’t cause significant side effects beyond that—and if they do, it’s more of an indicator that you’re not taking the right probiotic supplement with the appropriate strains of bacteria for you. “Probiotics can be tricky. Not every probiotic is right for each person,” says Dr. Pedre. “Sometimes it’s about finding the right fit.”
Indicators that you might need to switch up your probiotic? You experience bloating, constipation, or diarrhea (that resolve when you stop taking it), and anxiety or irritability (that increase when you take it).
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