Probiotics in food products are a growing market. Fermented or cultured dairy is one of the popular types of probiotics such as milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.
Non-dairy food products have also been developed. Fermented vegetables, soy, nutrition bars, cereals, and juices are viable means of probiotic delivery.
Some of the health conditions probiotics can treat, and their benefits are:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Improve immune system
Probiotic dietary supplements can provide numerous health benefits. They can support your digestive health, reduce harmful bacteria from your gut, and treat a leaky gut.
Good bacteria already exist in the body, making them generally safe for consumption in healthy adults.
However, probiotics can still cause some mild side effects.
If you are starting a new probiotic supplement, you may experience mild digestive discomfort.
You can experience stomach upset, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Consuming probiotics on an empty stomach can lessen the chances of minor side effects such as excess gas.
Nevertheless, it rarely causes harmful effects. Unless you have a severe health condition, there is a slight chance of experiencing complications.
Some people choose a specific time to take probiotics to avoid minor side effects.
Those who are not advised to take probiotics are patients that are immunosuppressed, pregnant, with acute abdomen, neutropenia, etc.
A functional medicine dietitian can determine whether it is safe for you to ingest probiotics.
Effect of Probiotic Supplements on Gut Health
About 100 trillion gut bacteria live inside the digestive system.
Several studies have investigated the potential of gut bacteria in improving health conditions such as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease.
Antibiotics, immunosuppressive therapy, irradiation, stress, and hormonal changes can alter your gut health.
This disruption in the gut can cause digestive issues, leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease, and obesity.
Moreover, it can help maintain the integrity of your gut lining, promoting a healthy immune system. The beneficial bacteria support your gut health by regulating the harmful bacteria.
There are hundreds of bacterial strains in the gut microbiome. Those that exhibit health benefits are selected as probiotics.
A 2013 study states that specific probiotic strains can treat a particular health condition.
Probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii are popular beneficial bacteria used in supplements.
Viability of Probiotic Bacteria
Survival rates of probiotics in the body are an essential consideration. Probiotic supplements travel through the digestive system before it reaches the gut.
Therefore, the colony-forming units that reach your small and large intestines should be a sufficient amount for probiotics to work.
Stomach acid and probiotics
The stomach and the surroundings of the digestive tract have a harsh acidic environment. The acidic environment kills bad bacteria that may pass through your stomach.
The stomach prepares food for digestion and absorption by the intestine. In addition, the majority of probiotics have a low tolerance to stomach acid.
The colonization and health benefits of probiotics can only take effect if the probiotic bacteria can survive through the stomach acid.
The viable amount of cells in a product should be at least 108-109 CFU/ml.
Different factors during manufacture, ingredients, and shelf-life of a product can affect the survival rates of probiotics.
Stomach acid needs to protect the digestive system from bad bacteria. However, some probiotic strains can be killed by prolonged exposure to stomach acid.
Nevertheless, timing and meal composition can affect how good bacteria reach your small and large intestines.
Good bacteria must travel quickly through your stomach acid to your small intestine or large intestine.
Probiotic supplements and Foods
In probiotic foods, the factors evaluating the effectiveness of the incorporation and survival rates of probiotic bacteria into products are:
Safety of product
Compatibility of product and probiotic bacteria
Maintenance of viability through manufacturing
The pH level of the product
Foods such as cheese have an advantage over yogurt as delivery systems for probiotic bacteria to travel through the digestive tract.
In addition, the science and technology of probiotics have improved the stability and viability of probiotic bacteria in products.
Probiotic supplements can be formulated to be enteric-coated and protected from stomach acid. This ensures that the probiotics work by being released in the small intestine.
Coated tablets or delay-release capsules are the probiotic delivery system that can enhance their viability through stomach acid.
In 2020, a one-step-poly-L-lysine (PLL) coating process was successfully tested to increase the survival rate of probiotics through the stomach and reach the gut.
A high-quality probiotic supplement will ensure enough probiotic bacteria travel to your small or large intestine.
When Should You Take Probiotics?
A standard has not been set for the best time to take probiotics. A lot of research and experience of people are conflicting when it comes to it.
Many factors can affect the efficacy and risk of side effects when you take probiotics. Some manufacturers have put this into consideration and continue to improve their products.
However, popular probiotic supplements and food have yet to adapt.
Some probiotic strains may have different characteristics and have better survival rates, while other delivery systems are more viable.
The time you take probiotics is just one of the considerations you must make when choosing and taking probiotics.
Nevertheless, it is essential to take probiotics consistently to experience their health benefits.
1) Taking probiotics with or without meals
Probiotics work in the gut, but they must go through the stomach acid quickly to survive. This is true for most probiotic strains and delivery systems.
It is recommended to take probiotics on an empty stomach. You can take probiotics 30 minutes before your next meal or 2-3 hours after.
Many companies don’t indicate how to take their probiotic supplements, and commercial literature suggests that they can be taken before, during, after, or without a meal.
The lack of a standard guideline for probiotics has led to confusion for consumers.
Since there are numerous probiotic strains in different products, others may suggest you do so or otherwise.
However, there is an impact of time administration and specific foods on the survival of healthy bacteria.
While for others like Saccharomyces, a meal time or composition does not affect its viability.
Studies found that the survival rates of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in probiotic supplements improve when taken 30 minutes before a meal.
Many probiotic supplements taken with food or after a meal had lower survival rates.
Drinking probiotics 30 minutes after a meal leads to more prolonged exposure to stomach acid during digestion.
On the other hand, if you take probiotics without food, the good bacteria pass quickly through the stomach and reach your small and large intestines in higher numbers.
Meal composition is another factor considered in studies.
A low-fat content such as 1% milk fat and oatmeal milk enhanced the number of probiotic bacteria that survived through the stomach acid.
Therefore, if you are taking a non-enteric coated probiotic supplement, the best time to take probiotics is 30 minutes before a meal with low-fat content.
Moreover, a heavy meal is not advised as it can prolong the digestive process and expose probiotic bacteria to stomach acid for too long before it gets to the small or large intestine.
Therefore the best time to take probiotics for most people is before breakfast since they usually have a heavy meal for lunch or dinner.
A 2017 study refuted that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are not affected by stomach acid and food intake.
Healthy participants were asked to take probiotics 30 minutes before breakfast, while the other half took it 30 minutes after breakfast.
After one month of consistent intake of a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, both groups showed an improvement in gut health.
All participants who took the probiotic supplements with food or on an empty stomach had an increase in probiotic bacteria in their gut, leading to a reduction in bad bacteria.
2) Taking probiotics in the morning or at bedtime
Since taking a probiotic on an empty stomach is often advised and supported by research. The best time to take probiotics is on an empty stomach in the morning.
You can take probiotics 30 minutes before breakfast or once you wake up. Most people have less active digestion at this time.
It prevents the probiotic supplement from prolonged exposure to stomach acid.
However, some individuals prefer to take probiotics in the evening before bedtime.
If you eat your last meal early and wait 2-3 hours before taking probiotics, your stomach will be less active.
Both choices are valid as long as you follow the time before and after meals to ensure that you take your probiotic supplement on an empty stomach.
Nevertheless, if you take an enteric-coated tablet or delayed-release capsule, you can take them at any time. Eventually, what matters is what works best for you.
A consistent commitment to taking your probiotic supplement accompanied with a healthy lifestyle will provide you with the health benefits you need.
Tips for optimal benefits
Take probiotics consistently
Know the type of probiotic supplement you’re taking
Choose a high-quality probiotic supplement
Try different types of probiotic supplements and choose what’s best for you
Consult a functional medicine dietitian for professional advice
A probiotic supplement can have different characteristics that affect your health. How your body reacts to a probiotic will also vary.
Timing, meal composition, stomach acid, survival rate, CFUs, and probiotic strain are a few factors considered when evaluating the efficacy of probiotics.
Deciding the best time to take probiotics may have an impact, but it is also essential to consider other factors.
Nevertheless, according to most research, having probiotics on an empty stomach is an intelligent choice.
Most probiotics have low acid tolerance, and food can cause mild bloating and gas.
A recent study may refute that timing does not cause significant alterations.
Whether you take probiotics on an empty stomach, before breakfast, during meals, or after your last meal, you will reap the benefits of a probiotic supplement.
If you have issues when taking a probiotic at certain times or with specific foods, a functional medicine dietitian may provide professional advice personalized to your needs.
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