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You’ve probably been hearing a lot of information about probiotics; how to take probiotics, how to find the best probiotics, how they benefit your health. These friendly bacteria can be found in numerous parts of your body, and they play a large role in repelling or disabling unwanted microbial invaders. While probiotics occur naturally in many different foods, the best way to ensure that you are incorporating these health-boosting microorganisms into your lifestyle is by taking high-quality probiotic supplements.

How to Take Probiotics: The Debate

Even though scientists have known about probiotics for decades, there still doesn’t seem to be a consensus about one of the most basic aspects of these supplements: how and when they should be taken. Some health experts suggest taking a probiotic supplement with food, while others insist that you take them on an empty stomach. There are those who insist that taking probiotics first thing in the morning provides the most health benefits, but others claim that the evening meal is the ideal time to get your recommended dosage. And then there are those probiotics advocates who feel that the time of day is irrelevant when it comes to taking these supplements.

So, what is the best way to consume this beneficial bacteria? The best answer is also the simplest one: check the product label. If the dosage directions on your probiotic packaging call for taking the supplement at a certain time or with/without food, then make sure to adjust your regimen accordingly.

Is it really that easy to take a probiotic? Yes and no. You should follow the directions on the probiotic bacteria product of your choice, but you should use discretion when choosing said probiotic.

Other Labelling Info: CFUs, Storage, and Expiration Dates

While focusing on how to take probiotics, you should pay attention to some other aspects of the product label as well. Let’s go over a few other pieces of information that you should take note of.

First of all, probiotics are light sensitive, so whatever product you choose should be packaged in a dark container. Otherwise, that good bacteria will likely no longer be alive, thus rendered totally ineffective.

Also note the concentration of the probiotic that you’re taking. That concentration is measured in colony-forming bacterial units, or CFUs. These will be measured in millions or billions, and they may be broken out my bacterial strain. Generally speaking, adults should target a daily dosage of 15 to 20 billion CFUs each day. In addition, some probiotic supplements are time release, meaning that they introduce the probiotics into your system gradually, instead of all at once.

Also pay attention to the directions for storage of your probiotic supplements. While most probiotics will call for storage in a cool, dark, dry place (like a cabinet, drawer, or pantry), a few products require refrigeration in order to maintain maximum potency. And like all consumer products, it’s important to check the expiration date of your probiotics. After all, because the supplements contain live bacteria, they won’t do you any good if they’ve died off before they enter your body and learning all about how to take probiotics will be for naught!

Probiotic Strains Are Important

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to probiotics is that unlike many over-the-counter medications, the main ingredients for probiotic supplements can vary widely. Even probiotic foods contain different kinds of probiotic bacteria. All probiotic supplements contain active bacteria but the types, strains, and subspecies of bacteria can differ significantly from product to product. The supplements that are labelled properly will identify all bacterial strains on the side of the container, with the strains listed in descending order from highest to lowest concentrations (i.e. from more to fewer CFUs).

There are a couple of reasons to choose a probiotic with particular strains. One is that your gut microbiome might be lacking certain beneficial strains, which can create an imbalance of your gut bacteria. Another reason this is important is because certain probiotic strains have been shown to protect you from specific diseases or ailments. Here is a partial list of conditions, along with the specific strains that have been shown to combat them:

  • Acne treatment: Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum1; Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus paracasei
  • Acne prevention for in vitro babies: Enterococcus faecalis2
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea in elderly patients: Lactobacillus casei,3
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus4; Saccharomyces boulardii5
  • Anxiety associated with chronic fatigue: Lactobacillus casei6
  • Bacterial vaginosis: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus fermentum RC-147
  • Colic in babies: Lactobacillus reuteri 8
  • Depression: Lactobacillus casei9
  • Diarrhea (acute): Saccharomyces boulardii10
  • Diarrhea in children: Lactobacillus rhamnosus 11; Bifidobacterium lactis;12
  • Eczema risk reduction for in vitro babies: Lactobacillus rhamnosus LPR or Lactobacillus paracasei and Bifidobacterium longum BL99913
  • Food allergy prevention in babies: Lactobacillus GG14
  • Gas after meals: Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 608615
  • Glucose tolerance: Bifidobacterium lactis16
  • Halitosis: Streptococcus salivarius17
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: Lactobacillus plantarum 299V18
  • Lactose maldigestion: Streptococcus thermophilus19
  • Mood regulation: Bifidobacterium animalis Lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Lactococcus lactis20
  • Skin sensitivity reduction: Lactobacillus paracasei CNCM 1-2116 and
  • Bifidobacterium lactis21; Bifidobacterium longum22
  • Sleep regulation in elderly people: Lactobacillus helveticus23
  • Stress: Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum24
  • Tooth decay prevention: Lactobacillus reuteri25
  • Tooth decay prevention in kids: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG26
  • Urogenital tract protection against infection: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1;24
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-127 and Lactobacillus fermentum B-54 or RC-1428
  • UV skin damage: Lactobacillus johnsonii29
  • Weight and fat loss: Lactobacillus rhamnosus30; Lactobacillus gasseri SBT205531

Another tip on how to take probiotics: For an extra boost, take probiotics and prebiotics together. Prebiotics act as fuel for probiotics, which increases their efficacy.

Finally, there are a few other recommendations regarding probiotic supplementation. You should never take these supplements along with coffee, tea, soup, or another hot liquid, since the bacteria’s effectiveness could be eroded by the heat. Also, if you will be traveling for any length of time (especially by air and/or to another country), it’s wise to take some extra doses of probiotics to avoid the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea. Probiotics combat pathogens and boost your immune system before, during, and after your trip.

Researchers are discovering more and more benefits of probiotics every year. So if you could use a little health boost, try a probiotic supplement for a month or two to see if you achieve satisfactory results. Since side effects are minimal and no prescription is required, what do you have to lose?

Read More:

Your Best Probiotics Guide (+ why you really need them)

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About the Author

Dr. Amy Lee

Dr. Amy Lee has board certifications in internal medicine, physician nutrition and obesity medicine specialty. She practices internal medicine with a heavy emphasis on nutrition, wellness and weight management. Her Clinical nutrition fellowship training at UCLA has allowed her to incorporate realistic lifestyle modification in all her medicine patients.