Taking a probiotic in the morning

When to Take Probiotics: Myths & Facts

If you've thought about your gut health recently, odds are you've considered picking up a probiotic. And that wouldn't be surprising. Probiotics have gained traction as a part of any solid foundational supplement regimen for their versatility in supporting whole-body health, benefitting everything from your gut microbiome to your immune system.

But, with all the information and the various types of probiotics out there, it can be hard to sift through myths and facts, whether probiotics are new to you or you regularly take a probiotic and want to up your gut health game.

So let's start from square one.

What are probiotics?

Whether you're a probiotics pro or the thought of taking probiotics is a foreign concept to you, odds are you've heard of these beneficial helpers. Probiotics are live microorganisms, including bacteria and yeast, that help balance the good bacteria and bad bacteria in the body's microbiome. Each microorganism is what's known as a microbe, and the most common place those beneficial microbes live are in the small and large intestines (better known as the gut), and the health benefits typically begin in the gastrointestinal tract. Though, not all probiotics are the same, and there are specific types of strains for specific functions (more on that in a minute).

The main sources of probiotics are found in food and dietary supplements. Supplemental probiotics can be found in several different forms, including probiotic powders, capsules and even liquids. Sometimes manufacturers combine the two and infuse drinks or other foods with probiotics in order to get the most benefits out of them.

On the other hand, some of the best probiotic foods to help support a healthy microbiome come from unlikely places, including from dairy, vegetables and legumes. These foods include kefir and yogurt, as well as kimchi and tempeh, among others. So consider adding a few or all of these to your diet to optimize your probiotic intake. Your gut will thank you!

Pro tip: Though many fermented foods tout probiotic rich benefits, be sure to always check ingredients on the label to see if the food is providing live cultures of verified probiotic strains, so you know they contain microbes studied to be beneficial to your health.

Types of probiotics: What are they?

Now that you have the basics, it's time to get into the specifics of probiotics. That is, the specific strains of good bacteria. Probiotic types are identified by these strains, which includes the genus, species (sometimes even a subspecies) and an alphanumerical strain distinction.

Of the multiple strains of probiotics, there are 7 main genus types that are typically used in probiotic supplements. These include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus. While these names may be a mouthful, they are the shining stars of the probiotic world for their versatility in promoting whole-body health, and an influx of the right strain of good bacteria can benefit pretty much everyone.

It may seem like a lot of gibberish, but each strain has something special about it that can benefit the body (not just the health of the intestines) and it's important to understand the distinction. For example, you might look for a combo of several strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium if you want to support whole-body health, but if you're looking specifically to support your immune system, Lactobacillus rhamnosus CRL-1505 might be the way to go.

What are the signs you need probiotic supplements?

After learning all about what a probiotic is, you might be wondering if you need a probiotic (and if so, which type you need). While there's no neon sign telling you that you need to take probiotics, anyone who is trying to maintain their overall health should consider incorporating a probiotic as part of a healthy regimen. A healthy microbiome impacts all aspects of head-to-toe wellness and a probiotic can help protect that microbiome. And certainly, if your goal is to support the health of your gut, a probiotic is a good idea.

Truly benefiting everything from digestive and heart health to immune and brain health, some specialized probiotics can even promote a healthy stress response and optimal liver function. If you have a health goal, there's probably a probiotic for it. Talk about a Jack of all trades! That being said, if you're still wondering if you "need" probiotics, it would be best to discuss with your healthcare provider what is right for you.

How many probiotics should you take per day? Dosage tips

Since each probiotic is different, the amount you should take will depend on the dosage used in clinical studies, which is why it is always so important to follow the instructions listed on a product label. The good news is that multiple studies suggest that probiotics are generally well tolerated.

What are CFUs?

If you've checked any probiotic label, it's likely you've seen something called CFUs on the packaging. CFUs are what's known as Colony Forming Units, and are how probiotics are dosed. CFUs are a measure of the number of living cells of bacteria that can multiply and grow to confer health benefits. In simpler terms, CFUs are the number of living cells that can grow into a microbial colony, or community, in your body, and are the concentration of live microorganisms present in a serving.

Most probiotic supplements contain anywhere between 1 billion to 50 billion CFUs per dose. You may be thinking that you want to seek out probiotics on the higher end of the CFU spectrum, but higher CFU counts does not necessarily mean that the probiotic is "better."

Can I take prebiotics and probiotics together?

Yes! Probiotics and prebiotics are known to work synergistically with each other, as prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients usually found in dietary fibers that probiotics feed on and use to grow. So, not only is it smart to take them together, but it's also encouraged. Think about prebiotics like adding fertilizer to the soil of your plants to help them grow. Sure, with proper care, your plants will still grow and stay healthy, but the fertilizer optimizes the benefits that are already there, and plants can use it to grow more easily. The combination of pre- and probiotics is called a synbiotic.

Beyond pro- and prebiotics, you may have also heard about something called postbiotics. Postbiotics function as a sort of byproduct of probiotics, and while the probiotics are known as live bacteria, postbiotics are the health conferring materials that are released by probiotics, and are not live. However, they still have an important place in digestive health benefits.

What are the best ways to take probiotic supplements?

The best way to take probiotic supplements is to do so as directed on the label! There is a science-backed reason for this, as label instructions are usually informed based on findings in clinical studies that showed the dose with the best efficacy and administration of the supplement or nutrient in the study.

Should you take probiotics morning or night?

Though it may seem like one time is better than the other, there really isn't one best time to take probiotics. Remember, it comes down to consistency to produce the best effects and to get the most out of your probiotic.

If the instructions are more general, a good rule of thumb is to take your probiotics at the same time every day. Though the best way to take a supplement is as directed on the label if there are specific instructions, as it typically reflects the best way to take them based on what was determined in clinical studies.

Should you take probiotics on an empty stomach?

While you can take probiotics on an empty stomach, it's always best to follow any label instructions and take a probiotic as directed on the label. While each label will vary, depending on the probiotic some labels may suggest taking them on an empty stomach, while others suggest taking them with food, and sometimes it won't specify at all. In that case, take your probiotic at any time you'll remember to take it, or at the same time every day.

Consistency is key for getting the most out of anything, whether it's exercising, eating well, or taking your supplements.

How long after taking a probiotic supplement can you have coffee?

Worried that you might not be able to take a probiotic with your morning Joe? Fear not! There's no specific health reason why you can't supplement and enjoy your morning caffeine. You may want to, however, monitor how hot your coffee is as most bacteria are sensitive to heat, so there is a chance that any hot drink could affect the bacteria in the probiotic if taken in too close succession. A good rule of thumb would be to wait about 30 minutes between consumption of a probiotic and a hot drink.

Should probiotics be stored in the fridge?

You may have seen probiotics in the health and wellness section of your grocery store that are stored in a fridge and assumed all probiotics need to be refrigerated in order to maintain their health benefits. While it's always best to follow the instructions on the label in terms of how best to store them, probiotics are typically shelf stable at room temperature (though some may benefit from an extended shelf life with refrigeration).

When it comes down to it, it's less important to look for a refrigerated probiotic than it is to look for a probiotic with an effective delivery system. We like a dual-encapsulation system for maintaining the CFUs and keeping the bacteria alive (a problem some probiotics can run into when confronted by stomach acid when digesting).

When should you not take probiotics?

Have no fear, a stellar safety profile is here! Probiotics are well known for generally being well-tolerated, with few recorded side effects. However, if you are taking other things in your regimen or are concerned about introducing something new, talk to your healthcare provider before adding probiotics to your supplementation routine.

Are there any side effects to taking probiotics?

Probiotics have a history of apparently safe use. Though minor side effects, like occasional gas and bloating, may occur, probiotics are well-tolerated and major side effects aren't commonly associated with taking them. Supplementation is unique to each person, and you should always consult with your doctor when introducing something new to your routine to avoid interactions and other undesired side effects.

Should I take probiotics while pregnant?

Like any new health regimen or addition, it's always important to discuss with your primary care physician. Studies suggest that taking probiotics doesn't appear to impact pregnancy, and in fact, can be beneficial to health during pregnancy. Among these benefits include healthy immune function, as well as a specific meta-analysis of 278 studies that found that probiotics actually helped support healthy skin during both the prenatal and postnatal period of pregnancy. There's even been evidence to suggest that certain Lactobacillus strains in conjunction with one Bifidobacterium strain of probiotics offer supportive digestive health benefits for pregnant women, particularly in their first trimester.

Can you take probiotics with digestive enzymes?

Probiotics aren't the only option when it comes to supporting your gut. Digestive enzymes are a key component of helping your body break down food. From protein, starches and fat to harder-to-digest foods, like legumes and cruciferous veggies, digestive enzymes also play a vital role in fighting occasional bloating and discomfort that can come with normal digestion. Because they're known as such digestive health superstars, it's no surprise that they're often combined with probiotics to optimize digestion. In fact, B. coagulans MTCC5856 is one of the digestive probiotic strains that is commonly combined with digestive enzymes.

Now that you're a probiotics pro interested in adding probiotics to your regimen, but don't know where exactly to start? Take a Probiotics Supplement Quiz to find out what's right for you!

References

By: Holly Denton, Health & Wellness Writer

Holly Denton got her degree in English Literature from Florida State University and spent a few years working in English education (building English as a Foreign Language curriculums, as well as teaching abroad) before joining Life Extension as a Proofreader.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD