Medically reviewed by Roxana Ehsani, MS
People take probiotics for a variety of health concerns, especially for digestive conditions such as diarrhea, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotics may have an effect on the gut microbiome, which is made up of all the microorganisms that live in the digestive tract.
What’s not clear is which types of probiotics are best for which conditions, what time of day to take probiotics, or whether probiotics need to be taken with food. This article will include a review of what is known about the best times to take probiotics.
How to Take Probiotics
Probiotics come in several forms. You may consume probiotic-rich fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and miso. Or, you may take oral probiotic supplements in capsule or liquid forms. In addition to these are topical probiotics that are applied to the skin or the vagina.
One of the main issues with oral probiotics is how to keep them alive long enough to go through the acidic stomach environment and the small intestine to reach the colon, where they are thought to have the most effect.
Starting a Probiotic
It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting a probiotic. Probiotics are available in many different forms and strains, and it may be difficult to determine which type to try. A healthcare provider can help by recommending a specific probiotic.
Some research has been done on what time of day probiotics should be taken and what types of food they should be taken with for the greatest effect, but a general agreement by the medical community has not been reached. However, there are some rules of thumb that can help you make choices about probiotics.
One study sought to determine if what you eat or drink with probiotics affects how they work. The experiment was not done on humans but instead was an in vitro (not using a live organism) study using a model of the digestive tract.
The strain in the study was Lactobacillus fermentum K73. Researchers found this particular strain lived longer when it was mixed with milk vs. water. This could mean that taking a probiotic with milk might be more helpful than taking it with water. But the authors couldn’t say for sure this made a significant difference in the makeup of the human gut microbiome.
A 2017 study from Italy looked at a combination of Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, two types of bacteria found in the digestive system. The participants took the probiotics either 30 minutes before or 30 minutes after breakfast. Timing didn’t factor into the results, as both groups were shown to have an increase in “good” and a decrease in “bad” bacteria in their gut.
Prebiotics are also important when taking probiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible parts of plants that become food for the probiotics (and the existing microorganisms in the gut microbiome). Some food sources of prebiotics are nuts, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans), onions, garlic, wheat products, artichokes, and chicory root.
The takeaway is that there's no one agreed-upon way to take a probiotic. It should be based on each individual's needs, how they structure their day, and if the probiotics are causing any side effects.
When to Take Probiotics: Morning or Night?
Most clinical trials on probiotics don’t include the time of day the supplements were taken, such as first thing in the morning or before bedtime. This could mean that researchers don't expect time of day to have much of an impact.
The best time to take a probiotic might be the time when it’s most convenient to take it. A probiotic that isn't taken because it is forgotten won't have any opportunity to work.
Talk with a healthcare provider about how to take a probiotic. In addition, every probiotic will have its own instructions on how best to take it. Probiotics are made using various methods and with different ways of encapsulation, such as coatings on capsules to protect the contents from stomach acid or to allow timed release.
The product label should give details on when is the best time to take the probiotic, whether it should be taken with or without a meal or with milk or other foods, and if it's most effective when taken in the morning or at night.
When Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics?
There’s not much evidence that shows the best time to take probiotics, so schedule it when it's most convenient for you to remember to take it.
If you experience symptoms after taking a probiotic, you can try changing the time of day you take the probiotic or taking the probiotic with a meal. If it’s recommended to take the probiotic with food, take it with the same meal each day (such as breakfast).
Check with a healthcare provider if it makes sense to take a probiotic at a different time of day from other medications. For example, they might recommend not taking it at the same time as an antibiotic, as that drug might kill the probiotic organisms.
What might be most important is to take the probiotic consistently and to take it for the recommended amount of time.
Tips on Starting a Probiotic
When starting a probiotic:
Ask a healthcare provider for advice on which probiotic to take (such as a particular strain or brand).
Read the label carefully to understand when and how to take it.
Take the probiotic at the same time each day.
Assess how you feel after you take it.
Consider keeping a symptom diary to track progress.
Signs Probiotics Are Working for You
Whether a probiotic might help with symptoms will depend on a number of factors, such as the strains, formulation, dosage, and the condition being addressed. In general, one measure of whether a probiotic is working is that symptoms start to improve. However, you should keep in mind that the probiotic might not be the reason for the improvement.
People take probiotics for several desired outcomes. Most of these have not been verified by research. Possible benefits you may notice include:
More regular bowel movements
Less stomach pain/cramping
Clearer skin (fewer breakouts or improved eczema)
Improved immunity (fewer colds or viral infections)
Potential weight loss
Fewer vaginal infections
Signs Probiotics Are Not Working for You
The evidence on probiotics is not clear-cut. It’s still unknown which strain (or strains) might be best for each person and for which health condition. Because probiotics usually are not covered by health insurance plans and can be expensive, consumers will want to know that what they're taking is worth the added expense.
If you are taking a probiotic supplement, check the label to see how long the manufacturer recommends taking it to experience benefits. See your healthcare provider if your symptoms continue or do not improve. If you have a health condition or concerning symptoms, do not take probiotics instead of seeing a healthcare provider.
If your healthcare provider has recommended a probiotic, ask your provider when you can expect to see results and what signs may indicate the probiotic is working. If there’s no noticeable change in that time period, ask whether you need to change the strain or discontinue taking probiotics.
Any adverse effects that occur after starting a probiotic, such as a headache, bloating, or excess gas, are a reason to ask a healthcare provider about changing the probiotic or stopping it.
Probiotics are largely thought to be safe. However, they are living organisms that can grow and colonize in ways that aren't intended. When using a probiotic, you may experience rare adverse events, including infections, especially if you are immunocompromised.
For that reason, it’s important for anyone with a health condition who wants to take probiotics to first ensure that it is safe to do so.
Who Should Not Take Probiotics?
Probiotics usually don’t cause any serious problems. Minor symptoms in some people include gas, as well as infections, though infections are uncommon.
However, there are some people who might be at a greater risk of having a bad outcome. People who are very ill or who have a compromised immune system may not be good candidates for probiotics. The World Gastroenterology Organisation recommends against people with serious diseases or a compromised immune system taking probiotics.
For those who want to try probiotics, asking a healthcare provider will be the best way to get advice before exploring the option. The time of day probiotics are taken and if they should be taken with a meal will depend on the strain and on the manufacturer's recommendation.
Benefits should be noticed within a few weeks. Probiotics are safe for most people, but those who have serious illnesses or are immunocompromised may be at a greater risk of complications.