Confused about when to take probiotics? You’re not alone. There are hundreds of probiotic brands out there, and it’s increasingly difficult to know which probiotics are best for your needs—let alone when to take them.
Many brands market themselves on the fact they contain high numbers of ‘good’ bacteria, while others tout the inclusion of specific strains. However, this isn’t the full picture. What most people don’t realize is that those billions of bacteria and special strains aren’t any good to you if the bacteria itself can’t colonize your gut!
Probiotic supplements have a tough journey. Once swallowed, the vulnerable bacteria move into the very acidic environment of your stomach. They also face destructive digestive enzymes including pepsin, the enzyme that breaks down protein.
The remaining probiotic bacteria that do survive will then continue down to the small intestine, which is more alkaline. However, this is where they encounter amylase, lipase, and protease, then bile.
Unsurprisingly, some studies show that survival rates for certain strains of probiotics can be as low as 20%. This is why it’s so important to know when to take probiotics for the best health benefits.
When to Take Probiotics
Research shows that the survivability of probiotics is greatly enhanced when they are taken with food. Taking them just before or during a meal is the best way to help them survive their journey through the gut.
This is all has to do with the pH balance of your stomach. Stomach acidity is measured by pH. The lower the pH, the more acidity. The higher the pH, the more alkalinity.
As mentioned above, an empty stomach is highly acidic. The pH is very low—around 2 to 3. This is too harsh an environment for most bacteria to survive. However, after a meal, the pH of your stomach contents temporarily rises to a more alkaline value of around 7. The reduced acidity means there is less chance of the probiotics being destroyed.
A study published in the journal Beneficial Microbes showed that taking probiotics with food can make all the difference to their survival. When study participants took their probiotics within 30 minutes of a meal or during a meal, the beneficial bacteria were able to survive in much higher numbers than when taken 30 minutes after a meal.
The small intestine is where nutrients are broken down and absorbed. After leaving the stomach, food and bacteria move through this area fairly quickly, and so there are no huge colonies of flora (bacteria) in the small intestine. The large intestine is where most bacterial colonies reside.
Taking probiotics with meals can help ensure you reap the full benefits of the bacteria. However, this isn’t always convenient!
Time-Release Probiotics Vs Regular Vegetable Capsules
While veggie capsules may be suitable for supplements that aren’t affected by gastric acids, like magnesium, they are not the right delivery system for probiotics. Vegetable capsules are made of hypromellose, a polymer formulated from plant cellulose. This might sound like a healthier or more ethical option, but it’s not particularly good at protecting probiotic bacteria from those stomach acids.
The acidity of your stomach will quickly break down a standard vegetable capsule, which will cause it to release the probiotic contents. Those bacteria will be quickly destroyed before they have a chance to provide any health benefit to your gut. In fact, most regular vegetable capsules will only get a very small percentage of their contents beyond your stomach.
Probiotic powders are even worse—they have no protection at all. Simply put, if your probiotics aren’t delivered in a form that protects them from stomach acid, those living organisms will be ruined before they even reach your intestines—let alone provide any benefits. And that can be a real waste of money!
This would make it seem that the only way to take probiotics is with food. However, our busy lives mean that we don’t always eat regularly, and we don’t always have our probiotics with us when we eat.
Fortunately, there’s another option: time-release probiotics.
What Are Time-Release Probiotics?
We’ve established that for probiotics to be beneficial, they must first survive the journey through the acidic environment of your gastrointestinal tract. This means they need to reach the large intestine before they can confer their many health benefits.
Time-release probiotics are made with special technology to protects them from stomach acid. BIO-tract technology is the best example of this.
BIO-tract technology allows probiotic bacteria to be freeze-dried and then compressed into tablets. As soon as these tablets come into contact with moisture, they form a protective gel coating that keeps them safe. That allows them to pass through your stomach acid with only a minimal loss of potency.
Once past your stomach acid, these time-release tablets are designed to release their probiotic bacteria over 8 to 10 hours. In practice, that means the majority of their bacteria are delivered safely to the large intestine, just where you need them.
Top 3 Digestive Health Supplements
If you’re looking to boost your digestive health, here are the top 3 supplements to include in your routine:
1. Time-Release Probiotic
BIO-tract probiotics are made with time-release technology that has been shown to increase the survival rate of probiotic bacteria to an amazing 60% (compared to only 4% for capsules). The probiotic bacteria are freeze-dried and compressed into a tablet that gets them safely past your stomach acid.
When you swallow a BIO-tract tablet, it is moistened by gastric fluids. This causes a gel matrix to form around the tablet, creating a barrier that protects the probiotic contents from harsh stomach acid. The tablet can then safely pass through to your intestines where the probiotic bacteria are released at a consistent rate of over 8 to 10 hours.
Look for a BIO-tract probiotic that contains at least 5 probiotic strains and at least 10 billion CFUs of bacteria. A good example is the Balance ONE Probiotic. It uses BIO-tract, has 12 probiotic strains, and contains 15 billion CFUs of bacteria.
BIO-tract tablets can be taken with or without food, which makes them a much more convenient option for busy people!
Buy Balance ONE Probiotic here.
2. Digestive Enzymes
Your body naturally produces its own digestive enzymes to break down food. However, these are sometimes insufficient. Sometimes your body doesn’t produce enough of these enzymes to digest your food, and sometimes they become diluted with too much liquid in the diet.
Taking a digestive enzyme supplement like Garden of Life Organic Digest could really help to give your digestive function a boost. This formula contains 29 powdered Certified Organic fruits and vegetables combined with a select blend of powerful digestive enzymes a blend of the enzymes that your body would normally produce, such as lipase (to break down fats) amylase (to break down carbohydrates), and proteases and peptidases (to break down proteins).
It’s best to take your digestive enzyme supplement during or after a meal.
Buy Garden of Life Organic Digest+ here.
Glutamine is an amino acid that plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining. In fact, it’s the most abundant amino acid in your bloodstream. Your body needs it to repair cells, especially the cells of your gut mucosa.
Glutamine is like a ‘glue’ that holds the lining of your gut together. It helps to keep your intestinal cells healthy and strong so that they can keep toxins out of your bloodstream.
Pure Encapsulations l-glutamine is a 100% pure glutamine powder made with hypoallergenic, vegan ingredients. It’s an important fuel for the small intestine, helping to protect your intestinal barrier against bacteria and repair damaged tissues.
Buy Pure Encapsulations l-glutamine here.
Are you getting the most from your probiotic? Several factors go into making sure that your probiotic is effective. Paying attention to each one will pay dividends for your gut health, and it will prevent you from wasting your money too.
Check to see if our probiotic has sufficient CFUs (at least 5 billion) and strains (at least 5) to make a real difference. Take a look at the delivery system too—will it actually get those bacteria past your stomach acid and safely to your gut? Time-release tablets or delayed-release capsules are far better solutions than regular vegetable capsules.
When you have bought your probiotic, make sure that you take it with food or just before your meal. Research shows that this will maximize the benefits to your gut health. In turn, that can translate into stronger immunity and higher energy levels.
Probiotics are truly amazing supplements that have myriad benefits for your health. All you need to do is follow these simple rules to ensure that you get the most from your probiotic.
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