If you’ve ever complained about stomach issues (I’ll spare you a list of specific symptoms), chances are, you’ve been told to try taking probiotics. The healthy microorganisms — often referred to as good bacteria — now come in the form of foods, supplements, and even skincare products.
Maybe you already have a favorite probiotic supplement. Or maybe you haven’t been able to find an option that works for you just yet. Either way, there may be a simple trick to boosting the effectiveness of the healthy bugs: taking them at the right time.
No need to set an alarm. To figure out when to take your probiotic supplement, consider your meal schedule, says Raphael Kellman, M.D., the author of The Microbiome Breakthrough. He suggests aiming to swallow them before or as you eat breakfast or at night before bed.
Why? “When you eat, there is a natural increase in digestive enzymes and bile salt production as your digestive system prepares to, well, digest your food,” explains Gregor Reid, Ph.D., the chief scientist at the probiotic company Seed. Those enzymes and bile salts can kill the bacteria in your probiotics long before they ever get to your small and large intestines, where their real work is done. Taking the supplements when you’re not digesting food (and therefore there are lower levels of these substances in your stomach) increases the chances that the bugs will survive their transit intact so they can influence your health. For these reasons, taking your supps after a meal might be a mistake, but before or as you start eating is an optimal window.
Studies back this up. One team of researchers found that the common bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have the best chances of survival when taken up to 30 minutes before a meal. It noted that those taken 30 minutes after munching didn’t survive in high numbers.
But most experts agree that consistency is more important than timing. Aim to take your probiotics around the same time every day. “Probiotics are transient microbes,” Reid says. They passing through your colon, benefiting the microbiome as they interact with other bacteria along the way, but then ultimately leave your body. So, you need to constantly replenish your supply, he says. “This is why continuous intake is important.”
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