By Jill Levy
You’ve done your research and have settled on a quality probiotic supplement that you’re confident will address your health interests. But now you’re wondering, “when should I take my probiotic?”
Unless the label suggests differently, generally speaking, most experts will tell you that the best time to take probiotics is usually about 30 minutes before eating a meal, rather than taking them while fasted or after a meal. (Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any dietary or lifestyle regimens, including taking dietary supplements.)
How come? In this article, we’ll dive into the details behind the best time to take probiotics, as well as offer tips for choosing the best probiotic supplement that is more likely to be absorbed and utilized effectively in the gut.
Why Take Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that live in your digestive system/gut (also called your gut microbiome). They help to maintain a healthy balance of gut flora.
These “good guy” bacteria play a huge role in supporting gut health, which typically translates to other benefits such as healthy immune system function, support for nutrient absorption, healthy digestion and elimination, and much more.
Here are some of the reasons that taking a high-quality probiotic supplement can generally be beneficial:
- Help to maintain the integrity of the gut lining, a crucial and often underappreciated part of the immune system
- Help to promote a healthy immune response and immune defenses
- Help us to absorb essential nutrients in the gut, including zinc, iron and vitamin B12
- Help to reduce occasional diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating
- Can help to regulate how you produce neurotransmitters, which impacts your energy, outlook and sleep
Best Time to Take Probiotics
While choosing a quality supplement is important for getting the most benefits from probiotics, when we take our probiotic supplements also determines how impactful they will be.
In order for healthy microbes to work, they need to make it through our stomachs and to our intestines, which is not necessarily an easy journey, due to the presence of stomach acid, enzymes and high heat.
When is the best time to take probiotics, on an empty stomach or with meals?
Overall, research has been somewhat mixed when it comes to determining how well probiotics are absorbed when taken with food versus taken without.
Some research suggests that healthy microorganisms can survive in roughly equal numbers when consumed with or without a meal. It really seems to depend on the specific type of microbe, and possibly on the individual taking the supplement too.
So what’s the bottom line? The most common recommendation is to take probiotics either within one hour before eating, or with a meal.
In general, this seems to help ensure survival better compared to taking them after a meal, when the pH of your stomach becomes more acidic. Probiotics taken with a meal containing healthy fats, and ideally prebiotics, can also contribute to higher survival rates.
Why is it better to take probiotics on an empty stomach?
Certain types of healthy bacteria may thrive better in the gut when taken separately from food; however, this doesn’t seem to apply to every beneficial type of microbe.
The idea behind taking probiotic supplements on an empty stomach, a bit before a meal, is that this can reduce the presence of stomach acid that can oftentimes kill off some probiotics.
One potential problem with taking probiotics on a completely empty stomach is that fasting increases stomach acidity (your stomach has a low pH when you’ve fasted). After you eat, your stomach’s pH increases, which can help buffer against probiotic die-off in the digestive tract.
To keep your stomach in an optimal pH range, take your supplement shortly before eating. Some people prefer to take theirs in the morning before breakfast, while others take theirs later in the day before dinner.
Should I take a probiotic every day?
Overall, yes, most people can benefit from supplementing with probiotics, as well as eating probiotic foods, every day.
Ultimately, it seems that taking your supplement consistency (every day) around the same time is the best way to ensure they work well for you. You’re most likely to experience benefits if you’re consistent whether you take your probiotic with or without a meal.
How long does it take for probiotics to work? Do probiotics help right away?
Probiotics can be absorbed within about 30 to 60 minutes of you taking them. However, it takes time for your body to adjust to the presence of new microorganisms in your gut, so the real benefits may take some time to kick in.
Try to be patient and expect that it will take at least several weeks for you to start experiencing benefits, such as improvements in digestion.
When NOT to Take Probiotics
If you’re in a fasted state (you haven't eaten in hours and don’t plan to eat for several more hours), then this isn’t the ideal time to take probiotics.
It’s also best to take your probiotics before a meal, or with a meal, but not after eating. A general rule of thumb is to wait 2–3 hours after your last meal to take your supplement — especially if you ate a big, heavy meal.
Keep in mind that another important way to support the growth of “good guy” bacteria in your gut is by regularly eating probiotic-rich fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir. Additionally, including fiber-rich, prebiotic foods in your diet, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes, will help to “feed” healthy bacteria in the gut.
In order for probiotic microorganisms to confer their benefits, they must reach your large intestine first where they can colonize. This is most likely to happen if you take a potent supplement that has a high CFU (colony forming units) count, and one that features “survivable” microbial strains.
Related: How to Read A Probiotic Label
Probiotics also work best when combined with prebiotics, which means it’s helpful to take prebiotics and probiotics together in one supplement. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that feed gut bacteria, helping the healthy kinds to thrive.
Ancient Nutrition has formulated several SBO (soil-based organism) probiotic supplements tailored towards those with various goals and interests. SBOs are made from microbial strains that occur naturally in the soil. They don’t require refrigeration like many other supplements, and are known to be resilient and to survive the journey from your mouth, through your stomach, making it to your lower GI tract to work their benefits.
Here are some of the key features of our SBO Probiotic products:
- SBO Probiotics Ultimate — Features 50 billion shelf-stable CFUs* of SBOs per serving, along with prebiotics and postbiotics to create a “trifecta approach.” Intended to help support healthy bowel transit time and digestive function, healthy immune system function and gut flora, normal nutrient absorption, and more.
- SBO Probiotics Gut Restore — Provides a powerful combination of 25 billion CFUs of SBOs plus prebiotics, postbiotics, organic licorice, marshmallow, zinc and magnesium. This product is specifically intended to support overall healthy gut function. It can help promote normal bowel transit time, digestive health, and a reduction in occasional constipation, gas and bloating.
- SBO Probiotics Women’s — Features a blend of 25 CFUs* of SBOs per serving in combination with organic fermented blend of superfoods such as chasteberry and ashwagandha, formulated specifically to help support women’s health. It helps promote healthy digestive and immune system support, helps reduce stress and promote a positive mindset, and helps reduce fatigue.
- SBO Probiotic Men’s — Supplies men with 25 CFUs* of SBOs per serving, in combination with an organic fermented blend of ashwagandha, fenugreek, ginger and fo-ti root. Formulated specifically to help support men’s health, this product helps boost muscle mass, strength, serum testosterone levels and recovery while also supporting digestive and immune system health.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.