This question seems to divide probiotic manufacturers more than anything else, with lots of conflicting advice and information. It really shouldn’t be like this though. To answer the question we just need to understand what situation will allow the maximum chance of the probiotic bacteria reaching where we want is to, the large intestine, alive.
Many companies suggest in taking their probiotics in the morning on an empty stomach, but this is really not great advice. That’s because after fasting throughout the night, the PH of our stomachs reaches it’s most acidic, ranging from around pH 0.8 to 2. The more acidic your stomach is, the more chance it has of killing the probiotics.
So what is the best time to take a probiotic?
Well actually the time is not that important. We recommend to our customers to take in their probiotics in the morning because it tends to be easier to form a routine and not forget to take them. However, if you prefer to take them at another time of day that’s fine.
What is more important is to take Probiotics with food and not on an empty stomach. After a meal gastric pH levels will rise to between pH 4 and 7, meaning the stomach is much less acidic, so there’s less chance of the probiotics dying. Also the digestive enzymes released when we eat will ensure the stomach empties more quickly.
A 2011 study showed that probiotics taken within 30 minutes of a meal survived in significantly higher numbers than probiotics given more than 30 minutes after a meal. The study also showed that more bacteria survived when taken with food, than when they were taken with water or apple juice.
The authors of the study went on to say that it was the fat content of the meal that was important for survival of the probiotics, so try to have a little fat in your meal that you take your probiotics with (1).
But what about enteric coated and delayed release capsules?
All reputable probiotic companies should use an enteric coated or delayed release capsules, and these capsules should ensure that the probiotics make it through the stomach acid alive. At Intelligent Lab we use a delayed release capsule. However, no company can ensure that these will work perfectly every time. So because we want to guarantee that all of the minimum of 50 billion CFU that’s in each of our capsules reaches your gut alive, we suggest taking them with food.
Actually, what is more important than looking for delayed release or enteric coated capsules is to make sure that whichever probiotic you are using lists the sub-strains of bacteria that are in it’s probiotic. Just listing a strain should be a big warning sign as to the quality of the probiotic. For example, if we take the most common probiotic strain lactobacillus acidophilus, we use the sub-strain La-14*. This is a well researched sub-strain that we’ve chosen for it’s unique health benefits and it’s ability to survive stomach and bile acids.
Simply listing a strain on a probiotic bottle such as lactobacillus acidophilus with no sub-strain, is a bit like saying I have a dog. OK, so you have a dog, but what type is it? A German Shepard is obviously different to a Miniature Pinscher. Just as those two breeds have different characteristics, so too do different sub-strains of the same bacterial strain. Simply listing the strain with no sub-strain is an indication that a probiotic company is using a cheap generic strain to save costs, who’s health and survival properties are unknown.
So to conclude, if you’re taking Intelligent Labs probiotics we do recommend taking them with a meal to create the best possible situation for the good bacteria to arrive in you gut alive. However, because we use delayed release capsules and sub-strains specifically selected to survive acidic conditions, if that’s not convenient for you, you can also take them on an empty stomach and they will still work just fine.
*The other sub-strain in Intelligent Labs Probiotics are Lactobacillus casei LC-11, Lactobacillus paracasei Lpc-37, Lactobacillus plantarum Lp-115 rhamnosus Lr-32, Lactobacillus lactis Li-23, Bifidobacterium bifidum Bb-06, Bifidobacterium breve Bb-03, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-04, and Bifidobacterium longum BI-05.
- Tompkins TA1, Mainville I, Arcand Y. The impact of meals on a probiotic during transit through a model of the human upper gastrointestinal tract. Benef Microbes. 2011 Dec 1;2(4):295-303.