More on Probiotic Timing

Reader Matt asked a good question in the comments:

What’s with the time factor – before vs. after the meal? Stomach emptying is in terms of hours. Seems like if consumption of probiotics 30 minutes before was within the optimum timing, maybe something other than raising the ph could be going on?

I wondered the same thing – why is 30 minutes before a meal optimal? According to the study, before and during a meal were both better than after a meal. But survivability was best before a meal. Well it turns out the answer is pretty simple. Probiotics come in capsules, and it takes a little bit for the capsules to open and release the probiotics:

The bacteria survival, when given before a meal, can be explained by the fact that the pH in the stomach remained higher for a longer period of time after the probiotic capsules opened due to the important buffering effect of the spring water and the saliva. The saliva secreted in response to the intake of the capsules, taken with water, raised the gastric pH and then when the meal entered the stomach, 30 minutes later, the gastric content was further buffered. When the capsules were given after the meal, the number of bacteria surviving stomach and duodenal passage was greatly reduced as the bacteria arrived about the same time as the pH of the system began to decrease.

So it turns out that 30 minutes before provides just the right timing for the probiotics to be released into the buffered pH of the stomach. Remembering to take something 30 minutes before a meal is a bit much for me, so as far as I’m concerned, taking them right before a meal, or perhaps right as I’m starting to prepare a meal, should probably do just fine.

But I don’t regularly take probiotics anyway, unless I’m curious about experimenting with something. I prefer to consume fermented foods. And guess what doesn’t come in a capsule? Fermented foods. And how are fermented foods usually eaten? Not 30 minutes before a meal. We traditionally eat them with a meal.

Sometimes it all makes so much sense it hurts.

— Heisenbug


31 thoughts on “More on Probiotic Timing

  1. Mr H, thank you so much for another insightful post.
    I was wondering what’s your take on SBOs?
    I recently started supplementing with Prescript Assist – besides other Bifido/Lactobacilli based probiotics, including L.Plantarum) – and I’m curious to see how it will affect me, since the others haven’t had too much effect. I’m not trying to cure anything per se, but I know my immune system could be better. I tend to be more tired than I should (especially if I indulge in sugary and grain based foods) and I also have a tendency to be bloated (probably some degree of “leaky-gut-ness” is present). In addition, my skin is often dry and I have on and off pains on my right wrist and left hip. Nothing extreme, but I would like to get rid of these nuisances. FYI, the wrist and hip pain weren’t there on the PHD diet, they only came back when I started supplementing with RS and increased fermentable fiber in my diet. A clear sign that something is happening.

    On an unrelated note…recently I learned that, roughly, only 10% of the population has had an appendectomy. I was shocked, as I thought that this number was much higher (close to 40%).
    I’ve had appendicitis at least twice (but I suspect more often) in my teens and at the age of 18 my appendix got removed.
    What does this say for my overall gut health?
    Is it more difficult for somebody that has had an appendectomy to heal the gut?!
    I suspect that my, above average, bloatings have something to do with my appendix removal. Is it possible?
    Another interesting fact is that, when I eat fermentable fiber, after a couple of hours I have a funny sensation (it’s not really pain…but I’m somehow aware of that part of my body) close to my scar, where my appendix used to be. I think that this happens at the time when the undigested food is transiting from the small intestine to the colon through the cecum. Is that sensation normal? Has anybody of you (with and without appendix :D) felt that? Is it a sign of fermentation taking place(in the cecum)?

    Ok I think I asked enough questions.
    Thank you all for your thoughts.

    • Hi Drini. SBOs are still a bit of a mystery. There is very, very little research on them. Almost none of the species in SBO’s are typical commensals or colonizers of the human gut. And it’s not even clear if they are typical bacteria that one would get from soil. My thought is that if there is something specific you are trying to achieve, and typical probiotics and prebiotics don’t seem to be working, it’s worth experimenting with. I think it’s very possible they exert immunological effects, at the very least.

      Re: the appendix, it does appear that it may be a “reservoir” of bacteria that the body can draw on after some type of gastrointestinal event that disrupts the gut. It might mean that repopulating your gut would be a little more difficult, but not sure.

    • Hi D, I had an emergency appendectomy about 9 months ago and have had much worse bloating/gas/stomach distention since. Too much resistant starch + probiotic supplements + fermented foods made it worse, so I have backed off and am trying to tease out what is causing my issues (SIBO, FODMAPS, hypochlorhydria)? I will pay more attention to that sensation around the removed appendix. Something is not quite right there (perhaps adhesions)? There is very little discussion (that I can find) about what to expect long-term regarding the appendectomy. I would like to keep in touch/compare notes, but I am not clear how to follow these blog comments. Maybe you can find me using dbfact? D

  2. Before there were fermented foods, there was dirt (SBOs if you will) and I doubt there was any timing issues…it just came with the meal…

      • And, it should also be pointed out that we evolved in nature with all its bizillions of microbes on everything we came in contact with…they ended up on our bodies, our hands, in our mouths, in our eyes and ears and nose…invading us at will…24/7…we adapted, evolved and here we are today doing our damndest to kill off what makes us what we are…human.

    • In addition to all the high fiber, probiotic foods, etc., I sit out in the dirt with my dog. She loves it, and I make sure to scratch or rub my nose and lips a few times. It could be something else, but my seasonal allergies are completely absent. Usually I am popping the Claritin this time if year.

  3. Thanks for starting this blog Mr Heisenbug – all very, very interesting stuff so far. Can’t wait to see the next instalments. It is wonderful to find people who are interested in poo – my friends don’t like to talk about it in much depth. My husband screamed and hid under the duvet when I tried to show him the Bristol Stool Chart… I get lonely sometimes.

    • Agatha, you made my day!! I can’t stop laughing at the idea of a grown man screaming and hiding under the duvet at the sight of a chart. 🙂

  4. Another informative and useful article, thank you!
    So if you don’t remember to take your probiotic 30 mins. before the meal, does it work to open the capsule and sprinkle it on your meal?

    • Hmm, interesting idea. According to this study, that might very well work. But I really don’t know if it’s worth trouble. Taking it with a meal seems to work well too.

    • I was wondering that as well. I wonder if its not more beneficial that way because it spreads to more parts of your body. Anything that enters you mouth will migrate at least a little to your respiratory system naturally.

  5. Why then, do the probiotics I take, Primal Defense and Probiotic 3, advise me to take them on an empty stomach between meals?

  6. thanks Mr H, I’m learning a lot from your block. I have a question about timing of a different sort. How long do SBOs and other probiotics last in the large intestine before they are passed out? Another way of framing my question is whether I need to take probiotics everyday, or do they hang around long enough that every few days is sufficient. Thanks.

    • I’m just guessing here, but you might expect a very fast response by your body trying to lower the ph. You would need a lot of baking soda to have a lasting effect. Plus, you might not like how much gas gets generated as a result.

  7. Would taking digestive enzymes interfere with the timing of probiotics? These enzymes are also to be taken 30 minutes prior to eating.

  8. This all is very interesting, thank you so much for sharing your ideas!

    It seems my lack of clostridia (which has been tested) would explain many of my symptoms but is there anything I can do to make them grow more? I’m already taking some potato starch (which I now understand isn’t enough) and eating a lot of fruit and vegetables but do you happen to know what’s clostridia’s favorite food?

    Regards, Kaisa

  9. I am a public health scientist with a personal interest in health & the micro biome. Better reading here than on many other gut/microbiome sites. Like Kaisa, I am low on clostridia. Also low on lactobacillus. Have had many many rounds of antibiotics over my life with resulting digestion issues, particular difficulty with carbohydrate digestion–raw fibrous foods, beans, etc. are killers for me. Any suggestions for how to re-populate with the kind of bugs that help with carbs, grow clostridia, increase resident good guys? Art Ayers says that probiotics aren’t really where it’s at because they’re transient, i.e. only a short-term fix. Any thoughts about soil-based probiotics such as Prescript Assist? Laterosporous? Bacillus coagulans?


    • Hi Patricia. Low on Clostridia almost certainly means not enough fiber fermentation. Probiotics are helpful, as they create good conditions for restoring gut bacteria, but they don’t contain the actual bacteria that your gut needs to be repopulated with. For that, you need fermentable fiber. If I were trying to repopulate my gut, besides an extensive fiber regimen (foods, supplements) I would just eat plenty of lacto fermented foods and perhaps a standard LAB probiotic. SBO’s may be promising, but maybe not. Requires personal experimentation.

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