By now, you've probably heard a little something about the benefits of probiotics. There's a reason these much-buzzed-about microorganisms seem to be popping up everywhere these days!
These bacteria are not only of central importance to your gut flora — which is linked to gut health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive ailments — but also for the overall well-being of your body and larger microbiome. Studies show that choosing to take a probiotic can support beneficial bacteria and microbes, creating what some research describes as a probiotic "glow of health." Basically, probiotic supplements can be a simple way to support your body's beauty and health.
But what is the best time to take probiotics? And how can you make sure you're getting the maximum health benefits from your probiotic supplements? VEGAMOUR turned to the experts to find out.
What Are Probiotics?
First of all, the basics: What are probiotics? The simple definition is that probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that are present in your digestive system, as well as the rest of your body. Fermented food and drinks naturally contain the same strains of probiotics that are already present within your intestines. Here are some popular sources of probiotics in foods:
If you eat a vegan or plant-based diet, be sure to read the label as some probiotic-rich foods contain animal products.
For many people, adding a probiotic-rich food to every meal is an easy way to balance gut bacteria. But since there are so many different strains of probiotics, those seeking an optimal bacteria balance within their digestive system may choose to take a probiotic supplement to encourage specific effects from their desired strains, such as a boosted mood or a stronger immune system, or just to encourage consistency in the timing of their probiotic consumption. That's where the question of when to take a probiotic supplement kicks in.
How Can Probiotics Benefit You?
Good reasons abound to take your probiotics. While the health information surrounding probiotic research is still in the relatively early stages, tons of studies exist that showcase the considerable health benefits of probiotic supplements for specific health issues of all kinds, as well as the general maintenance of overall health and well-being.
As always, you should chat with your doctor about any specific health concerns before beginning a course of treatment on your own, but study after study has shown that for healthy adults, taking probiotic supplements can have a beneficial effect on the following:
- Immune system support
- Gastrointestinal systems
- The female reproductive system
- Your hair health
- Overall mood and mental well-being
And that's just the start. In fact, if you can think of a positive health outcome, including positive outcomes related to hair wellness, there's probably a study out there linking it to probiotic bacteria. So there are plenty of good reasons to take your probiotics, but what time of day is best?
When Should You Take Probiotics?
When it comes to finding the best time to take your probiotics, a lot depends on your particular schedule — when you eat meals and when your gut is the most likely to be empty. That's why it can be difficult to find consistency in the opinions of experts about the best time to take probiotics. However, there are a few solid rules to keep in mind when deciding the best time to take probiotics.
"There are three factors that influence how fast probiotic bacteria reach the small and large intestine: meal composition, the size of the last meal and timing (consistency!)," said Dr. Mike Goodman.
Stomach Acid vs. Probiotics
The time it takes for your probiotic to kick into action depends on all these factors, as well as the individual probiotic you're taking. That's why it's important to always read the label of your supplements, and check in with your doctor, to make sure you're getting the maximum performance for your needs. However, as a general rule, Dr. Goodman said, "Many probiotics should be taken on an empty stomach, at least an hour before breakfast or right before bed at night, but at least two to three hours after the last meal. In this way, they can pass through the stomach faster and avoid being killed by the stomach acid."
The health benefits of probiotics are at their most powerful when they aren't being subjected to the harsh acidic environment of your stomach acids, which can destroy the delicate microorganisms. Your stomach produces stomach acid to break down the food you eat, which is a natural part of your body's digestive function. However, it's certainly not an ideal situation for taking probiotics.
"The thing is, when you have food in the stomach, it becomes more acidic; thus, there is a chance the good bacteria will be diminished/killed before they reach their destination," said Dr. Goodman. "And this is not what we want, right?"
But Dr. Goodman also said that there are some exceptions to this general rule. For example, he said that there's a study showing that uncoated probiotic supplements can be taken with fatty food because fat makes the stomach environment less acidic. So, if you're someone whose body needs food before drinking water and starting your morning routine, you can feel free to take your probiotics alongside a healthy fatty food, such as a handful of nuts or half an avocado drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
Dr. Green also advised that there are some types of probiotics that you can take with food, rather than just washing them down with water. "Spore-based probiotics are to be taken with food as they aren’t affected by stomach acid," he said. Reading the label of your probiotic supplement will let you know the type of strain you're dealing with and how best to take it for optimal gut health. Some common commercially available spore-based probiotic strains include:
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus indicus
- Bacillus licheniformis
- Bacillus clausii
Still, Dr. Goodman cautions that even if you take spore-based probiotics and choose to snack alongside your supplement dose, you should make sure to keep things relatively light. "Heavy meals are not recommended," he said. "The more you eat, the more acid the stomach secretes and the longer it takes the food to move to the intestines." This means that the benefit of taking probiotics is reduced by the presence of food, so if you do choose to eat alongside your probiotics supplement, keep things light rather than chowing down on a full meal.
A Bedtime Dose
NYC-based travel health and wellness strategist Dr. Kristin Hughes has come up with an optimal strategy for her clients who need to take a probiotic supplement while dealing with a changing schedule that crosses international datelines: Simply pop that probiotics pill before bedtime.
"The best time to take a probiotic is on an empty stomach right before bedtime, as they are most effective during transit," Dr. Hughes says. After all, probiotics work best on an empty(ish) stomach, so it makes sense to take them when you literally couldn't eat if you wanted to. Choosing to take probiotics before bed limits the possibility of any extraneous snacking.
But Dr. Hughes' advice goes beyond the chance to avoid midnight snacking. She says that taking a probiotic before bed actually gives them more of a chance to make an impact than they would if you took your dose during the day. "Taking probiotics before bed maximizes the time they are in your system, as the gut is fairly inactive at night," she explains.
And when it comes to probiotics, every hour counts. "The more time in the GI tract, the better, as these probiotics can promote good bacteria and get to work healing digestive issues," Dr. Hughes said. Taking a probiotic at night, when your GI tract is relatively inactive, means that the good bacteria get that much extra time to hang out and support all those positive overall health outcomes.
So that's why Dr. Hughes suggests taking your dose at night, but why on an empty stomach? "Taking a probiotic on an empty stomach allows the bacteria to have a better chance at reaching the large intestine," she explains. "When taken with food, there will be additional acid production in the stomach that the probiotic will have to get through en route, thus decreasing the amount of probiotic reaching your large intestine." This doesn't mean that you need to skip dinner. When taking probiotics at night, simply eat a little earlier in the evening, or adjust your schedule so you can have a bigger lunch and a lighter dinner, as is common in many other parts of the world.
However you chose to take them, it's worth experimenting with various strains of probiotics to see what works best for you. Everybody is different: If you don't like taking a pill before bed or have trouble finding the right light snack to eat with your pill, you can still take and enjoy the benefits of probiotics. Don't be afraid to experiment to find what works best for your body. Consider adding a hair vitamin to your daily supplement routine if you're on a hair journey, too! You'll be basking in that probiotic glow in no time!
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