Should I Take My Probiotics With or Without Food?

Today’s episode is all about probiotics! I tackle questions about potency, survivability, and the best ways to take probiotics so they have maximum effect.

I have two questions today, and I also answer a question I know many people have.

Nancy writes, “Should I take probiotics, flaxseed oil, or both?”

Edensway writes, “I buy my probiotics at Family Dollar stores, but now they are telling me you have to get certain types or they’ll be destroyed by your stomach acid! Is this true?”

I ask (and answer), “What’s the most effective way to take probiotics so they survive their transit to your intestines?”

[If YOU have a nutrition question for me, submit it here!]

Probiotics vs. Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is a source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA for short. It has no probiotic properties.

I prefer flaxseeds in whole form, as you get fiber and protein with them too. In either case, unless you avoid fish for specific reasons, I would recommend using fish oil to get your omega-3s in the form of EPA/DHA as they are much more potent.

ALA has only around 10 – 15% the potency of EPA/DHA, because our conversion of it to the active forms is poor.

Potent Probiotics Are Best

Price isn’t what determines a probiotics quality–potency is! Good probiotics will have BILLIONS of CFUs, or colony forming units. Cheap probiotics only have MILLIONS.

1 million is only 1/1000 of 1 billion, so the difference huge!

Since more potent probiotics have more bacteria to ‘spare’, more are likely to survive transit. This is one reason why more expensive probiotics can be more effective.

With or Without Food?

There isn’t a lot of research on this, but at least one study suggests that it actually doesn’t matter–survival rates were very similar!

It did warn not to have your probiotics AFTER a meal, though, as that compromises survivability.

Ideally, the meal should contain a fat source, which is typical for most meals anyway.

Share your probiotic experience in the comments below! Is there a particular strain you notice better results with?

  • References

    1. Charrois TL, Sandhu G, Vohra S. Probiotics. Pediatr Rev. 2006 Apr;27(4):137-9.
    2. Del Piano M, Carmagnola S, Andorno S, et al. Evaluation of the intestinal colonization by microencapsulated probiotic bacteria in comparison with the same uncoated strains. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010 Sep;44 Suppl 1:S42-6. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181ed0e71.
    3. Huang Y, Adams MC. In vitro assessment of the upper gastrointestinal tolerance of potential probiotic dairy propionibacteria. Int J Food Microbiol. 2004 Mar 15;91(3):253-60.
    4. Tompkins TA, 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. doi: 10.3920/BM2011.0022.

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About the Author

Brian Rigby, MS, CISSN is a health and nutrition writer and author of the recently published book The Multivitamin Lie, which explores how and why food is a better source of health-inducing nutrition than multivitamins. He also writes for Rational Nutrition, a blog dedicated to clarifying confusing topics in nutrition and debunking common myths.

Brian has a master of science in applied clinical nutrition and a specialized certification in sports nutrition. He works with athletes in the Boulder, CO area to harness nutrition in the pursuit of optimal performance.

Brian was a key nutritional science contributor to The Cheat System Diet by Jackie Wicks.

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