If you’re trying to boost gut bacteria by taking probiotics, make sure you aren’t making these common mistakes!
Probiotics replenish the good bacteria in the gut. This can help boost immunity and decrease the impact of leaky gut, which can lead to chronic disease. (1) Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about probiotics, and many people make mistakes while taking them.
Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the most from your probiotic capsules because goodness knows they’re not cheap!
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8 Mistakes You’re Making When Taking Probiotics
Whether it’s taking probiotics at the wrong time or choosing a product with poor quality ingredients, watch out for these eight mistakes next time you buy (or take!) a probiotic.
1. You’re Buying Cheap Probiotics
You don’t have to buy the most expensive probiotic on the market, but you want to prioritize quality. Some brands use fillers and other inflammatory ingredients, like corn products, in their probiotic formulations. When choosing a probiotic, look out for overly cheap prices – they probably contain cheap ingredients.
Ideally, the probiotic you take has no other ingredients aside from those friendly bacteria. You don’t need corn starch, soy lecithin, or gut-wreckng gluten in your capsules!
2. You’re Storing Them Incorrectly
Some probiotics are considered shelf-stable, meaning they don’t need to be refrigerated. However, others do need to be kept below a certain temperature. If you don’t stash this kind in the fridge, you’ll lose some of those beneficial microorganisms.
Check the product packaging for instructions on how to store your probiotics. If its shelf-stable, you don’t need to store it in the fridge, but you do need to keep it in an area that isn’t bright or humid. A bathroom shelf or drawer is not the best place, nor is anywhere exposed to sunlight. Keep your shelf-stable probiotics in a cabinet or dark place that stays consistent with temperature, and your refrigerated probiotics can be kept in the fridge or the freezer.
Finally, pay attention to expiration dates. Since probiotics are live bacteria, if you wait too long to use them, you might not be getting anything from it at all. All supplements are required to list expiration or “best by” dates.
It’s also best to buy refrigerated probiotics from a trusted health food store or practitioner who is likely to understand the value of preserving the microorganisms.
3. You’re Taking Probiotics with Antibiotics
Antibiotics and probiotics work against each other. One supplies bacteria, the other kills them. Here’s the thing, though: when used correctly, antibiotics are life-saving drugs. Overuse, however, can overrun your microbiome with bad bacteria, wreaking havoc on your health.
Take probiotics at least three hours after your last dose of antibiotics.
If you need to take antibiotics, it’s great to take probiotics as well! You just need to make sure the timing is right, or the antibiotic will destroy those live organisms before they even reach your gut.
Most antibiotics are taken six to 12 hours apart, depending on type and prescription. Always follow your doctor’s prescribing orders. Take probiotics at least three hours after your last dose of antibiotics. Most people wonder if it’s even worth taking them since the next dose of antibiotics is just going to kill more bacteria. Yes, it’s worth it, because probiotics help to address the negative side effects of antibiotics, usually digestive pain, diarrhea, and bloating. (2)
Once your course of antibiotics is done, it’s even more important to continue probiotics regularly for at least a few months to help recolonize your gut and strengthen your immunity.
4. You’re Taking Them at the Wrong Time of Day
Is there a right time of day to take your probiotics? In some cases, yes. Some products come with specific instructions for when and how to take (such as in the morning with food, or before bed – which implies without food). If your product specifies this, be sure to follow it for optimal results.
If your probiotic doesn’t come with instructions, the general rule of thumb is that shelf-stable probiotics (those that don’t need refrigerated) and S. boulardii, a specific strain of a yeast probiotic, can be taken with or without food.
Other strains are typically best taken with at least a little food to ensure they don’t get zapped from all the stomach acid they encounter. Essentially, a little food distracts the stomach acid, so that the probiotic bacteria can continue on down the digestive tract, toward the microbiome, or colon.
5. You’re Not Mindful of the Strains
Not all probiotics are the same, and with several dozen strains found on the market, how do you know which ones are best for you? Thankfully, many probiotic companies are now identifying specific uses for each product, like probiotics that target gut repair, vaginal health, digestion or even anxiety.
If you don’t have a specific reason to take a probiotic aside from wanting a boost of good guys in your gut, take a basic product that contains a Lactobacillus strain and a Bifidobacteria strain. (3, 4) These are two extremely common groupings of probiotic bacteria, the first which lives in the small intestine and the second which is found in the colon. By boosting both of these, you’re sending in the good guys to both areas of your gut.
If you want personalized recommendations on which strains or combinations are best for you, work with a doctor or practitioner who can advise on gut health.
6. You’re Not Taking Them Consistently
Probiotics only work if you take them regularly. The downside of the microbiome is that the good bacteria die off faster than the bad bacteria, meaning that the good stuff needs regular replacement.
The best way to ensure probiotic success is to take them at the same time each day, every day. Set a reminder alarm on your phone until you’re in the habit of remembering to swallow those pills like clockwork.
7. You’re Taking The Wrong Dose
Dosage isn’t as essential as strain, so don’t let this one trip you up entirely. That being said, if you’re going to spend the money on a supplement, you’d probably like to get the most impact from it.
Probiotic dosing is listed as CFUs, or “colony forming units”. It’s a list of how many good guy probiotic soldiers are in a single serving. Some will read as 10 million, others get into the billions. Millions sound like a lot, but when you consider that we have way more bacteria in our bodies than we even do cells, it starts to seem like a small number.
If your practitioner recommends a specific dose, go with that. Otherwise, I recommend at least 10 to 25 billion CFUs. If you have severe symptoms, like antibiotic-associated diarrhea, chronic or autoimmune disease, or other life-altering problems, a dose closer to 100 billion might be better to start with. (5)
Keep in mind that you’re not married to a probiotic strain or dose, and your gut health needs may change. If you’re mindful of your symptoms, this may mean changing strains or doses after a few months or a year.
8. You’re Skimping on Prebiotics
Prebiotics are just as important as probiotics. Prebiotics are the food that your good bacteria live on, allowing them to reproduce themselves in your gut. (6) The best way to feed your good bacterial soldiers is to eat plenty of fiber from vegetables and a little from fruit.
The foods richest in prebiotics are onions, leeks, asparagus, garlic, bananas, apples, artichoke, jicama, cabbage, and leafy greens.
If you’re not used to eating a high-fiber diet, ease into adding more of these in your diet, and start with the ones that are easier to digest: bananas, leafy greens, and apples.
If you’re new to taking probiotics, it can feel overwhelming to look at all of the varieties.
Remember to check the label to make sure there are no fillers, read up on the strains included, and be sure to take them at the right time of day.
(Read This Next: 5 Ways to Heal Your Gut After Taking Antibiotics)