Science 

What's the Best Time to Take Probiotics?

November 30, 2020 4 min read

Person checking the time on their smart watch

There’s a lot of information about probiotics out there. Topics you may have seen or read about include things likewhat probiotics are, where they’re found, how they work, whathealth conditions they can help with, and what different strains can do. But what about the best time to take probiotics? Should you take them in the morning or at night? With food or on an empty stomach? 

This post will answer those questions and more, so you can get the most out of these beneficial bacteria. 

Benefits of probiotic supplements

Probiotics are live bacteria that help promote gut health. Emerging research shows the correlation between the bacteria in the gut, also known asthe microbiome, and overall health. Gut health is essential, not only formanaging digestive disorders like occasional diarrhea and constipation, but also for strengthening the immune system and providing mood support. 

You can get probiotics from fermented foods such asyogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi—or you can get them from supplements. While eating probiotic-rich foods is one way to introduce beneficial bacteria into the body, taking them in supplement form is an effective way to improve your gut health that may come with additional benefits. 

Some reasons to consider taking probiotic supplements (in addition to getting them from food) include:

  • Supplements often supply more diversity and potency of bacteria than foods. For example, manyprobiotic supplements contain multiple different bacteria strains and as many as60 billion colony forming units, or CFUs, which is the number of viable bacteria in the product. Yogurt, on the other hand, may contain just one or two different strains and about 6 billion CFUs. 
  • Supplements can target specific health conditions. This is because different strains of probiotic bacteria serve different purposes in the body. You can read more about thefunctions of various probiotic strains and the conditions they support here.
  • Most supplements are allergen-free. For those with allergies or intolerances to probiotic-laden foods, supplements can be an excellent alternative to reap the benefits and can fit into just about anyone's diet. 
Probiotics on the counter in gray and orange bowls

The best time to take probiotics

The best time to take probiotic supplements has to do with how well they will survive in the digestive tract. Just because the bacteria may be alive during manufacturing and upon ingestion doesn’t necessarily mean they still will be by the time they reach your gut. Survivability in the harsh environment of the digestive tract is essential to capturing the benefits of probiotics and influences when you should take them.

There are a few factors that may affect probiotic survivability and determine when you should take them:

The acidity of the stomach 

The stomach naturally contains hydrochloric acid or HCl, which helps break down food after you eat. While this acid is crucial for digestion, it can interfere with probiotics andkill these beneficial bacteria. Some research shows that up to60% of probiotic bacteria may be killed in the stomach’s acidic environment before reaching the intestines and exerting their health benefits. 

Since acid levels are highest after eating, some research suggests that taking probiotics on an empty stomach may help ensure that they survive the harsh stomach environment to colonize the gut. One study found that probiotic supplementstaken 30 minutes before a meal or at the start of a meal resulted in better survivability of the bacteria than those taken 30 minutes after a meal.

The types of bacteria in the supplement

Some research has shown that theLactobacillus species of bacteria are resistant to acidic environments, and other species have also demonstratedvarying levels of protection in the stomach. These probiotic supplements may be taken with or without food while providing the same benefits. 

How the supplement was manufactured

Some supplements are enteric-coated, which provides a barrier between the bacteria and the harsh stomach environment. Others are packaged inacid-resistant or delayed-release capsules, which also helps with bacterial survival rates. These acid-resistant supplements can be taken with or without food, without affecting the bacteria’s usability in the digestive tract. 

Composition of the meal

If taking a probiotic supplement with food, the type of nutrients in the meal may affect the bacteria's ability to survive. Some research shows thatdietary fat may improve probiotic survival and usability in the body. 

Knowing what we do, the best time to take probiotics really comes down to your daily routine. While taking probiotics during the day or night doesn’t matter so much, consistency and the decision to take them with or without food is more important. 

As a general rule of thumb, taking probiotics on an empty stomach is a safe option for nearly all types of probiotic supplements, regardless of whether they are designed to be taken with food or not. Consistency with when you take your probiotic supplement each day may also play an important role in absorption, so set a time that works for you and stick to it.

Woman drinking from a glass of water after taking probiotics

Other factors to consider when taking probiotic supplements

In addition to the best time to take probiotic supplements, another important factor to consider is quality. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, which means that what is claimed to be on a label may not actually be what is in their product. For this reason, it’s essential to select a probiotic from atrustworthy and well-researched brand that utilizes third-party testing for purity and potency. 

Also, keep in mind that some probiotic supplementsneed to be refrigerated to stay alive. It’s important to read the label of any supplement and pay attention to storage guidelines and expiration date to preserve its potency for as long as possible. 

In summary

There are a few factors to consider when it comes to the best time to take probiotics. In general, taking them on an empty stomach may enhance the survival and effectiveness of the bacteria in your body, but time of day has little impact. Choosing a high-quality supplement brand and establishing a consistent routine for taking probiotics are perhaps the most important factors to make your investment in probiotics a worthy one. 

Joanna Foley - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice