Monday, July 22, 2024

Best Time to Take Probiotics, According to 3 MDs

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The act of selecting a probiotic — comparing elements like customer reviews and CFU counts — can take a lot of effort. Once you’ve found the one, you probably want to give yourself the best odds of benefiting from the supplement.

With that comes the question of when exactly to slot your probiotic into your routine, since some supplements are best taken at certain points throughout the day. (E.g., protein may be ideal after a workout, while bedtime makes sense for melatonin.)

Short answer: the jury’s still out. “There is no clear data on the optimal time of day to take a probiotic supplement,” says Wendi LeBrett, MD, a gastroenterologist and internal medicine physician. That said, there are a few factors that can help you decide what’s best for you.

Experts Featured in This Article

Wendi LeBrett, MD, is a gastroenterologist and internal medicine physician.

Supriya Rao, MD, is a quadruple board-certified physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine, and lifestyle medicine.

David D. Clarke, MD, is a gastroenterologist, internal medicine physician, and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association.

When Should You Take a Probiotic?

There are two main factors you should consider when thinking about the best time to take a probiotic: why you’re taking it, and what your diet is like.

Consider Your Reason for Taking the Probiotic

For a lot of people, a probiotic supplement may not be useful to begin with. “Guidelines from the American Gastroenterological Association do not recommend the use of commercially available probiotic supplements for most healthy adults,” Dr. LeBrett says. One exception, she says? When you’re on antibiotics, a probiotic can be helpful.

That advice may sound surprising, considering the prevalence of probiotics these days — they’re even in your favorite sodas — but Dr. LeBrett isn’t the only one giving that advice. “I only recommend probiotics in very specific circumstances,” says Supriya Rao, MD, a quadruple board-certified physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine, and lifestyle medicine. “Please talk to your physician before you take any supplement.”

The potential benefits of probiotic supplements goes beyond restoring gut health from antibiotic use, but research on their effects is still evolving. “Many benefits have been proposed for probiotic supplements but so far, the research evidence is indirect at best,” says David D. Clarke, MD, gastroenterologist, internal medicine physician, and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association.

Some of those potential benefits include improved immune function, reduction of eczema in infants, supporting mental health via the gut-brain axis, and helping with weight management, Dr. Clarke says.

What does this all have to do with when to take a probiotic? Well, your reason for taking a probiotic supplement may affect the optimal timing. For example, if you’re taking a probiotic during antibiotic treatment to promote gut health, ideally you’ll time your probiotic to not coincide with when you take the antibiotic.

The reason: antibiotics kill bacteria, and they could kill the healthy bugs in the probiotic if you take them too close together. “If taking antibiotics along with a probiotic supplement I would suggest taking them at different times of day (night vs. morning) to minimize the chance that the antibiotics could impact the live organisms in the probiotic supplement,” Dr. LeBrett says. So if your antibiotic needs to be taken with dinner, plan to pop your probiotic with breakfast.

If you’re taking a probiotic to treat gut issues like IBS, however, you just want to focus on taking it at the same with every day, ideally with a meal, says Dr. Clarke. “[This] will help maintain a steady level of probiotic organisms in the gut. The exact time of day may not be as critical as maintaining a routine.”

Factor In Your Food Intake

No matter the reason you’re taking it, ideally you’ll reach for your probiotic supplement as you’re sitting down for a meal or snack. “Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but taking the probiotic with a meal will help the organisms survive the passage through the stomach,” says Dr. Clarke. “This is because food protects the organisms from stomach acid.”

If you want to get even more specific, it may be better to take the supplement before or during the meal rather than immediately after.

“The data on this is limited but one study suggests probiotic strains are more likely to survive if taken before eating or with food as compared to after a meal,” says Dr. LeBrett. “I would also suggest avoiding hot liquids with your probiotic supplement as some probiotic strains are not resistant to heat.”

The study authors also reported that probiotic strains survived significantly better when the supplement was taken with oatmeal and 1% milk vs. apple juice or spring water, possibly due to a buffering effect from the fat in the milk.

Prebiotics fuel probiotics, so you may benefit from timing both types of supplements together. “When prebiotics and probiotics are taken together, they create a synergistic effect known as synbiotics,” says Dr. Clarke. “This combination can enhance the survival of probiotics in the gut.” Some supplements contain both, such as Seed’s DS-01 Daily Synbioic.

Of course, you can also simply eat food that’s naturally rich in prebiotics and probiotics, and skip the supplement altogether. “A diet rich in fiber (prebiotics) and fermented foods (probiotics, including yogurt or kefir with active cultures and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha) will support a healthy microbiome,” Dr. Clarke says.

The bottom line is, if you choose to take a probiotic supplement, you have some flexibility about when to take it. Ideally, you’ll choose a time that helps you remember to stay consistent and allows you to take the supplement with food. We vote for breakfast, but lunch or dinner works too.

Renee Cherry is a POPSUGAR contributor who specializes in beauty and wellness. Her writing has appeared in Shape, Women’s Health, Glamour, and Well+Good, among other publications.

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