What is the best time of day to take a probiotic?

Written by: Kari Raman, PharmD, RPh
Published May 13, 2023

My advice to patients at the pharmacy is that the best time of day to take a probiotic is the time of day that’s easiest for your schedule – the time of day that you are most likely to remember to take it! From a medical perspective, there is no definitive answer to what is the best time of day to take a probiotic. The ideal time to take a probiotic may vary depending on several factors, such as the type of probiotic, the reason for taking it, your eating habits, and individual preferences. 

What does medical research say about when you should take a probiotic?

There isn’t as much medical research on this topic as you’d expect. Some studies suggest that taking a probiotic supplement with a meal or shortly before or after a meal may improve its effectiveness. This is because, at least according to the theory, the food can help protect the probiotic bacteria from stomach acid and bile salts and improve their survival rate in the gut. Additionally, some people may find it more convenient to take their supplement with a meal, as part of their daily routine. And if that works for your schedule – go for it! 

Of course, now I’m about to contradict that with:

However, many doctors suggest that taking a probiotic on an empty stomach may be more effective, as it allows the probiotic bacteria to pass quickly through the stomach and reach the small intestine, where they can colonize and thrive. That could be in the morning when you first wake – even before you’ve had your coffee (in fact, I wrote an entire article about how to time your probiotic with your coffee routine)! On the other hand, some doctors suggest think that probiotics may work better when taken at night, as this is when the gut microbiome is most active and when your gut is less likely to have a bowel movement, passing the supplement out of the body (where it obviously can’t help you).

In general, it is best to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer or your healthcare provider regarding the timing and dosage of your supplement. If you have any concerns or questions about taking a probiotic supplement, it is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional.

The other major item to think about is stomach acidity levels. Stomach acidity is a major factor in how likely probiotics are to survive the stomach and make it into the intestines, where they can colonize and hopefully provide you health benefits. (Another supplement to consider the timing of is apple cider vinegar, since it makes the stomach more acidic – read my article on ACV timing here.)

When during the day is your stomach the least acidic?

The acidity level of your stomach fluctuates throughout the day, and it is generally the least acidic in the morning when you wake up. This is because your stomach produces less acid while you’re sleeping, as there is no food being consumed that requires digestion.

However, stomach acidity can vary from person to person and can be influenced by factors like diet, stress, medications, and other health conditions. If you’re trying to determine the best time to take certain supplements or medications that are sensitive to stomach acidity, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice based on your specific needs and circumstances. (In a related article I talk about how to take the supplement when you are fasting.)

Is it better to take your probiotic at regular times each day or can you take it whenever

It is generally recommended to take your probiotic at regular times each day, as this can help establish a consistent routine and ensure that you do not forget to take your supplement. Again, consistency is key, so if there is a specific time of day that is easiest for you to do, pick that time and stick with it. Taking your supplement at the same time each day can also help maintain a steady level of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

However, if you forget to take your probiotic at the usual time, it is generally safe to take it later in the day or even the next day. It is important to note that probiotic supplements are not like medications that need to be taken at exact times, so there is usually some flexibility in when you take them. 

Additionally, if you are taking a probiotic supplement to address a specific health condition, your healthcare provider may recommend a specific dosing schedule that is tailored to your individual needs.

Consistency – and daily supplementation – is key

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are beneficial to human health when consumed in adequate amounts over an extended period of time (you can read about how long it takes probiotics to work here – hint, it’s weeks, not days or hours, and varies by what condition you are trying to treat). They are measured in the somewhat confusing system of “CFUs” or Colony Forming Units. 

I advise my patients that the reason why you need to take a probiotic every day is because the beneficial bacteria in the supplement need to be regularly replenished to maintain their population in your gut. Your stomach acid, digestive system, and other inhabitants of your microbiome are constantly working to move out the new bacteria, so you need to regularly (and I mean daily) refresh with a new dose of the supplement. 

The gut microbiome, which is the collection of microorganisms that reside in the gut, plays a crucial role in human health, including digestion, immune function, and even mental health. However, the gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem that can be easily disrupted by factors such as stress, antibiotics, and a poor diet. When the balance of the gut microbiome is disrupted, harmful bacteria can proliferate and cause health problems.

Taking a probiotic supplement can help restore the balance of the gut microbiome by introducing beneficial bacteria that can crowd out harmful bacteria and support the growth of other beneficial bacteria. However, it takes time for the probiotic bacteria to colonize and establish themselves in the gut. This is why it is important to take a probiotic supplement every day for a period of several weeks to months to allow the bacteria (or yeast!) to start to improve your gut health.

The exact time it takes for a probiotic to start to improve your health may vary depending on factors such as the type of probiotic, the dosage, and the health condition you are trying to address. Additionally, it is important to note that probiotics are not a one-size-fits-all solution and their effectiveness may vary from person to person.

So my best advice to patients who are beginning a probiotic supplementation program is to pick a time of day that’s easiest to follow, and stick with it! When do I take my probiotics? In the morning, when I first wake up; it’s easy for me to remember.

Can you take probiotics any time of the month?

Can you take probiotics during your period? I dig into this topic in depth in an article on periods and probiotics. This is a somewhat newer question that I’ve been getting at the pharmacy, and it’s also about what time (as in when during the month) you can take them. It is possible that it’s not only safe but could potentially be beneficial to take these supplements during your period. While the research isn’t yet conclusive, probiotics could potentially alleviate symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and mood swings. I also recently reviewed Good Girl Probiotics, which is especially designed for women.

What are Probiotics?

After diving deep into when is the best time to take probiotics, it’s essential to understand what they are. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for our health, especially the digestive system. While the thought of ingesting live bacteria might sound off-putting initially, it’s important to realize that our bodies are already full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often referred to as “good” or “friendly” bacteria because they help keep the gut healthy.

There are various strains, each which may have unique health benefits for some people. The most common strains belong to the groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each of these groups comprises different probiotic species and strains. For instance, Lactobacillus may help with diarrhea and may be beneficial for those who can’t digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. Meanwhile, Bifidobacterium can be found in some dairy products and may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Sources of Probiotics

Probiotics are naturally found in our bodies, but they can also be found in certain foods and supplements. Some common sources of dietary probiotics include:

  • Yogurt: One of the best sources of probiotics, but it’s essential to look for yogurt labeled as containing live, active cultures.
  • Sauerkraut: Fermented cabbage that not only provides probiotics but also vitamins B, A, and E.
  • Kimchi: A spicy Korean dish made from fermented vegetables.
  • Miso soup: A Japanese soup made using fermented soybean paste.
  • Pickles: Fermented in a solution of salt and water, providing a rich source of probiotics.
  • Kombucha: A fermented green or black tea drink.

Benefits of Probiotics

While probiotics are primarily recognized for their role in digestive health, their benefits span across different areas of health:

  • Digestive Health: For otherwise healthy people, the right probiotics may help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut, which can get disturbed due to various reasons like taking antibiotics.
  • Heart Health: Some studies are starting to show that a few strains may help keep the heart healthy by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Allergies and Eczema: Certain strains may be able to reduce the severity of eczema in children and infants. They may also help with allergies.
  • Mental Health: Recent studies suggest that there is a connection between gut health and mood; read my article on how some may be able to make you happy
  • Immune System: Some studies are starting to suggest that they can boost the immune system, making the body more resistant to harmful pathogens.

In summary, probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that can play a vital role in maintaining our overall health. While they are naturally present in our bodies, certain foods and supplements can provide an added dose of these friendly bacteria. Understanding the role and benefits of probiotics makes it easier to appreciate why the timing and regularity of consumption can be crucial for those looking to maximize their health benefits. 

When considering the best time of day to take probiotics, it’s not just about the clock but about optimizing their benefits. Probiotics, when taken consistently and at the right time of day, could possibly be more effective in supporting your gut health. For optimal results, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional to tailor the timing to your individual needs. Remember, the time of day matters when aiming to get the most out of your probiotic supplement.

Pharmacist Kari Raman

I’m Kari Raman PharmD, RPh, and I am a licensed, practicing pharmacist. I hold a Doctorate in Pharmacy from The University of the Pacific, and I’ve served patients in retail, compounding and hospital pharmacies.

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