What is the best time to take probiotics? Experts explain

 What is the best time to take probiotics?  Experts explain

Probiotics seem to be everywhere — from foods to supplements to skin care and soda. Are you thinking about a bad carriage ride? So you’re probably wondering when the best time to take probiotics is.

Health-promoting microorganisms are marketed for everything from promoting gut health to balancing pH and helping with a number of other conditions. The most common ways to take probiotics are via supplements or by eating fermented foods.

What are the benefits of probiotics, and should you take supplements? Experts discuss what we know about probiotics, how they work in the body, and what to consider before trying them.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to the body. They supplement the microbiome, or create more diversity and improve the health of the bugs that live in the gut, Dr. Rabia de Latour, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, tells TODAY.com.

Probiotics are involved in immune health, digestion, and other body functions. Along with many other types of bacteria and germs, these bacteria live in the digestive tract, mouth, nose, lungs, urinary tract, reproductive organs and on the skin, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Some microorganisms in the body can cause disease, but others can help fight off or control bad ones, Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian at the Digestive Diseases Institute at Cleveland Clinic, tells TODAY.com.

“You need a proper balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria to promote health,” Zumpano explains. Probiotics help maintain this balance by increasing good bacteria in the gut.

Not all probiotics are created equal, as different strains work differently in the body, Zumpano says. The most common and well-studied types of probiotics, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include:

  • Lactobacillus (L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. casei, and L. plantarum), which lives in the intestine and female reproductive system.
  • Bifidobacterium (B. longum and B. breve), which live in the digestive tract

What about prebiotics? Although the names are similar, they are different. Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fiber, which is food for probiotics in the gut, says de Latour. These are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other plant foods.

Benefits of probiotics

In addition to helping the body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms, probiotics can also:

  • Aid for digestion
  • Improve absorption of nutrients
  • Boost immunity
  • Strengthening the mucous barrier in the intestine

“There’s been a lot of focus on the immune-supporting aspect of probiotics since 70-80% of immune cells are in the gut,” registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth tells TODAY.com.

Probiotics may also help the body recover from bacterial or yeast infections, including diarrhea, urinary and vaginal tract infections and gum disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

In the body, probiotics release important byproducts such as short-chain fatty acids, “which can have long-term benefits on immunity, inflammation and lowering cholesterol,” Zumpano says.

Research has shown that probiotics may help treat some health conditions. These include inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, allergies, eczema and acne, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, results vary among people who take probiotics to treat or prevent these conditions.

Experts point out that the benefits of probiotics are still an active area of ​​research, and that how they work in the body is not yet fully understood.

Sources of probiotics

Probiotics are found naturally in foods and are sold over-the-counter as nutritional supplements, either in pill or powder form, as well as some topical products.

The following fermented foods and drinks are sources of probiotics, according to experts:

  • Yogurt and kefir
  • Kombucha
  • sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh and tofu
  • Miso and natto
  • Some types of cheese (cheddar, Gruyère, Gouda)

Probiotics can also be added to food products and beverages, Largeman-Roth says. Forms of supplements include oral probiotics, which are taken into the digestive tract, and probiotic creams, which can be applied to the skin or mucous surfaces of the body, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Experts point out that there is no recommended daily intake of probiotics or specific dosage because there are so many different strains.

Who should take probiotic supplements?

Experts say that most healthy adults can get enough probiotics to add to the body’s existing stock of healthy bacteria by eating a balanced diet containing fermented foods. However, the strains and doses of probiotics found in supplements may be beneficial in some cases.

Some people may have an imbalance or deficiency in healthy microbes in their bodies, which can become dangerous, de Latour says.

This may happen if a person doesn’t eat a balanced diet that contains enough probiotic foods, Largeman-Roth says, but it also occurs due to certain health conditions, lifestyle factors, and medications.

The most common are antibiotics, which can kill the bad bacteria causing the infection and also some of the good bacteria, de Latour says. When there aren’t enough good bacteria to keep the intestines balanced, bad bacteria can thrive and cause diarrhea and other problems.

A severe imbalance in the microbiome can lead to life-threatening infections, such as C. difficile, de Latour says. People with this imbalance, also called dysbacteriosis, may benefit from probiotic supplements, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

However, different probiotics are used to help with different conditions, Zumpano says. Additionally, supplements may contain specific strains or multiple strains in combination.

Experts always stress that you speak with your doctor before starting to take probiotics to determine the type and dosage that is appropriate for you.

When should you not take probiotics?

There is no time of day when taking probiotics is not recommended, but there are some situations when taking them may be risky.

Experts point out that the main concern is when probiotics introduce harmful microbes alongside good microbes, which can cause serious infections in some people.

For example, the risk of adverse effects is greatest among people with weakened immune systems, including seriously ill individuals, chemotherapy patients, and premature babies, according to NCCIH. Cases of severe and fatal infections have been reported in premature infants who were given probiotics, TODAY.com previously reported.

In rare cases, some people may have an allergic reaction to probiotics, Zumpano says.

However, probiotic supplements are generally considered safe for healthy individuals, Zumpano says.

But keep in mind that there is little in-depth research on the safety of probiotics, so evidence about risks and side effects is lacking, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Also know that probiotic supplements are not regulated by the FDA, de Latour says. This means that the ingredients, dosages, and claims on the label are not approved by the FDA before the probiotic hits shelves.

What is the best time to take probiotics?

Probiotics, like many other supplements, can be taken at any time of the day, Largeman-Roth says. So, the best time to take probiotics is when you remember to take them and stick to them.

Experts point out that most research on probiotics does not compare timing.

“I don’t think it matters, but I also don’t know of any studies on whether you eat a fermented food (or take a supplement) in the morning or at night,” says de Latour. The microbiome is also constantly changing, she adds, and is a “moving target.”

No matter when or how you take probiotics, make sure to be consistent, Largeman-Roth says.

“Most probiotics must be taken daily to get benefit, although some recommend taking them for 5 days in a row, then taking 2 days off,” Largeman-Roth adds.

The same goes for food. “You should be able to get enough probiotics through your diet, but you have to take them consistently, so try to eat a few daily,” Zumpano says.

Is it better to take probiotics on an empty or full stomach?

“Most supplements can be taken with or without food, but some specify that they should be taken with a meal,” Largeman-Roth says.

Experts point out that many probiotic manufacturers recommend taking nutritional supplements on an empty stomach, but many do not. This may also vary depending on the strains involved, Zumpano says.

However, be sure to read the dosage instructions on the label and talk to your health care provider if you have questions.

Additionally, follow storage instructions on the label because some probiotic products require refrigeration, experts note. Certain strains require specific conditions to survive, and if supplements aren’t stored properly, probiotics may not even be alive when the pill reaches your mouth, says de Latour.

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