Probiotics: How to Maximize Their Effectiveness

Probiotics: How to Maximize Their Effectiveness
Probiotics: How to Maximize Their Effectiveness

Probiotics are live microscopic organisms found naturally in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso and tempeh (fermented soy). These "good bacteria" adhere themselves to the digestive tract and perform various roles in the body. They help aid digestive function, facilitate the production of B vitamins and support the immune system.

A healthy gut is home to more than 500 bacteria species, so replenishing the body with dietary probiotics is important. Particular issues like chronic diarrhea or constipation (in the case of Crohn's, colitis or irritable bowel syndrome) benefit from daily probiotics. Fermented foods are a healthy addition to the diet, but taking a probiotic supplement will provide higher doses of friendly bacteria. It is always a good idea to consult your health care practitioner before taking supplements.

Once you've been given the go ahead, you'll need to find the right probiotic supplement and dosage. Colony forming units (CFU) tell you the bacterial count found in each capsule, usually measured by the billions. One billion is a low dose and 100 billion is used for serious digestive ailments. Consult your practitioner, but generally the average dose can be between 10-25 billion CFUs per day.

What can I do to maximize their effectiveness?

Prebiotics, the food for the probiotics, such as bananas, honey, whole grains and garlic, may help nourish and encourage the probiotics to colonize in the digestive tract. Two to four servings of the prebiotics per day will provide the probiotics with the support they need.

When should I take probiotics-before, during or after meals?

Although there are numerous studies on the benefits of probiotics, not so many exist for how to take them. In other words, should you take them with meals, without meals, at night or in the morning?

A study published in 2011 found that probiotics fared better when taken with a meal or thirty minutes before eating. The theory is that the food provides the bacteria with a buffer against the acidity of the stomach and fat content seems to help more than other nutrients with this protective effect.

A review on probiotic research published in 2001, found that the main factors that determined the survival of the bacteria are the degree of stomach acidity, the length of time exposed to the acidity and the exposure to bile salts.

Read more about how to have a healthy microbiome

Furthermore, certain strains are less hardy and die out faster; this is why it is a good idea to purchase a multi-strain product (containing several different strains of bacteria). Popular types of strains are lactobacillus and bifidus, but there are several different species within these categories.

According to Dr. Mercola, enteric coated capsules (coated so that they survive the trip down the gastrointestinal tract) are somewhat controversial as they may be coated with undesirable substances or chemicals and are not necessary if you follow the steps below.

Based on this information here is what you can do to increase the effectiveness of your probiotics:

  • Take probiotics with your breakfast or right before eating
  • Eat some type of fat with your meal, such as milk with cereal (even non-dairy alternatives) or nut butter on toast
  • Take a multi-strain probiotic with at least five different types of bacteria-they will be listed on the label

Read more about fermented foods 

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Eleanor Healy is a writer with a passion for holistic health. As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), Reiki Master/Teacher and former Child and Youth Care worker, she spent many years navigating the choppy waters of burnout and trying to stay balanced in a demanding world. Her mission is to offer practical tips and techniques from her own trial and error process, so that you can live your best life! Follow Eleanor on Facebook and keep in touch with her at