Are You Taking Probiotics the Wrong Way? A Dietitian Weighs In

Gut health is incredibly important, so many people turn to probiotics to keep their stomachs healthy. Probiotics contain the same bacteria found in the digestive tract, and when stress, diet, or medications throw your system out of whack, taking them can help restore the balance.

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While you can get probiotics from foods such as kombucha, yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut, many people turn to supplements to ensure they're getting enough consistently.

I just assumed taking them on an empty stomach would be the best, since it would allow those little healthy bacteria to make their way through my digestive tract without any interference. But on both labels of the two kinds I have, the directions say, "May be taken with or without food." So is it better to take them before, during, or after meals? Is one more effective than the other?

As far as taking probiotics on an empty stomach, some experts believe you should. Culinary nutritionist Amie Valpone, HHC, AADP, suggests you "take probiotics on an empty stomach, so they don't ferment with the foods [you're] eating." Taking them first thing in the morning is definitely a great way to remember to take them. Not everyone agrees, though. Certified dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition, says that's because the pH in the stomach is too acidic and could destroy the bacteria. Eating increases the pH and decreases the acidity.

A 2011 study tested taking probiotics with oatmeal and milk, with milk alone, with apple juice, and with spring water. The verdict? Thirty minutes before or when starting a meal (oatmeal with milk) was found to increase probiotic absorption. Another thing the study noted was that absorption also improved when the meal contained some fats, in this case one percent milk, so Leslie suggests taking probiotics with a meal, drink, or snack that contains fat.

Since experts are not in agreement on the best time to take probiotics, do a little experiment on yourself. Try a week or two taking your capsules with food and then a week or two without. Make note of how you feel, and continue doing what works best for your body.