So much in life relies on timing, and taking probiotic supplements is no exception. If you want maximum efficiency from your probiotic supplements, when you take them is crucial. When looking at probiotic labels, you might see various suggestions about when to take these beneficial microorganisms, and they all conflict.
Several types of bacteria are categorized as probiotics, and they each come with their own benefits. The most common types of probiotics include:
- Lactobacillus – Potentially the most common family of probiotics, Lactobacilli are found in yogurt, kefir, and most other fermented foods. Strains of Lactobacillus can help with diarrhea and general digestive health. Some may even help those who are lactose intolerant by breaking down lactose for your body.
- Bifidobacterium – Bifidobacteria are the second most common probiotic strain and can be found in certain dairy products. They have also been studied for its use in supporting digestive health, particularly irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Saccharomyces boulardii – Unlike Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, which are probiotic bacteria Saccharomyces boulardii is a probiotic yeast which has been clinically proven to reduce the duration of diarrhea.1
What’s the best way to take these probiotics? A scientific study using an in-vitro digestive system model of the upper human gastrointestinal tract found that probiotics are best taken 30 minutes before meals with milk. While the digestive tract model was man-made, the digestive fluids used were genuine, including saliva, acids, bile, and enzymes.
The Probiotic Test
Researchers used a commercial probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, and Saccharomyces boulardii to determine the best time to take probiotics. The probiotics were put into capsule form and were put through the in-vitro model along with various food and drink products.
By sampling and quantifying how much probiotic was alive after making its way through the model, researchers found that the greatest amount of probiotic survived when taken 30 minutes before a meal or when taken with a meal consisting of oatmeal-milk or 1% milk by itself. When probiotics were given 30 minutes after the meal, not as much probiotic survived. Probiotics were also given in “meals” containing spring water or apple juice, but not as many of the microorganisms survived as in the oatmeal and milk cohorts.
The researchers concluded that it was the fat content—not the protein element—that made the difference in the other types of probiotics’ survival.
The one exception to these findings was the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, which thrived no matter when it was consumed or with what foods.
Best Time to Take Probiotics
So when is the best time to take probiotics? For the best results, take your probiotic supplement 30 minutes beforehand or immediately before your meal. The authors of the study harped on the importance of consuming fats with your probiotic but it may be milk that supports the highest amount of probiotic growth. This makes sense as many probiotics are rich in Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species which thrive in milk.
If you forget to take your probiotic before or during a meal, it’s okay to take it afterwards or on an empty stomach. Not as much probiotic will survive, but you will still get a substantial amount.You should aim to take your daily probiotic at the meal in which you are most likely to consume some fat. For many people, that’s virtually every meal, but for those on fat-restricted diets, one of the day’s meals may contain more fat than others. While most people consume different types of lunches or dinners on a daily basis, breakfasts are more likely to remain similar throughout the week. If you prefer oatmeal, cereal with milk, or coffee or tea with a splash of milk in your morning meal, that’s a good time to take your probiotic. If you make a routine of taking your probiotic first thing in the morning and then having breakfast, you’re not only optimizing the best time to take probiotics but putting together a convenient schedule so you won’t forget to take your supplement.
Some Common Side Effects of Probiotics
The most commonly reported side effects of using probiotics are mild digestive issues, usually gas, bloating, and general abdominal discomfort. These digestive problems occur most often in the first few days or weeks that you start taking probiotics. Timing can also influence side effects from taking probiotics. Although probiotics have been found to offer plenty of potential health benefits, they can come with some mild side effects.
Explanations for Mild Gastrointestinal Discomfort caused by Probiotics
One proposed explanation for this effect is that as the beneficial bacteria establish themselves in your gut and begin to grow, they compete against the “bad” bacteria. This drastic change in gut flora can cause initial gas, bloating, and intestinal discomfort. According to this proposed mechanism, these side effects occur until the probiotics form a new equilibrium with the gut.
Another proposed explanation is that certain foods may cause probiotics to produce gas. Gas production by probiotics inside the gut can cause bloating and a sense of fullness. For this reason we recommend taking probiotics 30 minutes before meals or on an empty stomach before bed which will minimize gas production.
Very high dosages of probiotics can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort as it can cause drastic changes to gut flora. To be effective, a probiotic should generally provide at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs). The therapeutic dose to reduce the duration of diarrhea in children was found to be 10 billion CFUs7. For this reason we formulated DrFormulas™ Nexabiotic® Probiotic supplement to have 17.25 billion CFUs per capsule. However, you may be able to find probiotics containing 100 billion CFUs, while some doses for children are often below 1 billion CFUs.6
Understanding the right dosage and the right timing can help you get the most out of your probiotics, ensuring that they help your digestive health without causing undesired side effects.