Probiotics are the “good” bacteria meant to re-establish intestinal floral balance by repopulating beneficial bacteria and keeping the growth of “bad” bacteria in check. Long-term antibiotic use and/or immunosuppressive therapy are known to significantly alter the gut’s floral composition and lead to gastrointestinal and immunological symptoms. Irresponsible dieting and poor lifestyle choices also have the ability to modify our intestinal microbiomes for the worst, particularly when neglected for extended periods of time. Probiotic supplements have shown a variety of health benefits in clinical study, including immune enhancement, weight loss, mood and cognitive improvements, and improved gastrointestinal health. It is worthwhile to note that probiotics are food- and time-sensitive supplements; an understanding of when to time your intake can significantly enhance their effects.
Related: A Guide to Timing Supplement Intake
The basis of this supplementing strategy is to understand that probiotics are, in fact, living organisms and that best effect is a result of keeping them alive throughout intestinal passage. This is not to say, however, that dead bacteria offer no benefit. Clinical study has shown that viable (live) bacteria are effective at modulating gastrointestinal and immune function while dead bacteria boost the anti-inflammatory response.
To maximize bacterial survival, they are best taken at times when digestive enzymes, stomach acids, and bile salts–all of which are potent enough to kill bacteria–are at their lowest levels. In a perspective shift, the food to be eaten can also affect bacterial survivial; fats, in particular, have been shown to buffer the stomach’s strong acidic conditions and increase probiotic viability. Since digestive enzymes and stomach acids spike in response to food, logic dictates that probiotics are best taken before a meal containing some fat content.
One study tried to determine the survivability of a multi-strain probiotic with respect to food intake and the buffering capacity of the food using an in vitro Digestive System (IViDiS), a mechanical model of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Results showed that probiotic survival was best when given with a meal or 30 minutes before a meal (which, in this case, was oatmeal cooked with milk with 1% milk-fat). Probiotic bacteria consumed 30 minutes after food, by which time digestion is in full swing, did not survive in adequate quantities. Additionally, bacterial survival was significantly better in milk with 1% milk-fat than it was when consumed with non-fatty spring water or apple juice. Finally, researchers concluded that that “non enteric-coated, bacterial, probiotic products” are best taken with or just prior to a meal containing some fat content.
- Header Image: tr0tt3r (Flickr)
- The impact of meals on a probiotic during transit through a model of the human upper gastrointestinal tract – Beneficial Microbes (Journal)
- Probiotics, immunomodulation, and health benefits – Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
- Role of probiotics as memory enhancers – Indian Journal of Pharmacology
- Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women – British Journal of Nutrition