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When should you take probiotics?

By now, you've heard that probiotics can be beneficial for our digestive system. These friendly bacteria promote the good life in our gut. Probiotics can be taken in supplement form, or when eating fermented foods (kombucha anyone?), plants, and vegetables. But when is the best time to take probiotics?

I recently heard that fertilizers for soil are analogous to probiotics for humans. Certain plant fertilizers offer protection from outside invaders, and lead to a stronger, more stress resistant plant.

Although mycorrhiza, as these soil fertilizers are called, are fungus and not bacteria, they work the same, and the comparison is apt. As Joanna Glovinsky, fruit tree expert and a public project manager at Fallen Fruit explains, "When you use [mycorrhiza], it's like probiotics for your soil."

plant fertilizers are like probiotics for the soil

Microbes everywhere

These kinds of soil fertilizers have a symbiotic relationship with the plant. As the plant develops stronger roots, it better absorbs necessary nutrients. At the same time, the fungus grows from the carbon in the soil that the plant converted from photosynthesis.

The symbiotic relationship between mycorrhiza in soil and the microbes in our digestive system work the same. As long as beneficial bacteria outnumber the destructive bacteria in our gut, we will have a stronger immune system, become more resilient to stress, and better absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. Clinical studies have also shown the effect plant nutrients have on lifting depression and improving our mood.

kombucha on tap

Probiotic benefits

You've probably taken antibiotics for an infection. Medicines such as antibiotics have saved many lives and even increased our lifespan, as most people died from infections a century ago. They are only effective against infections, and useless against viruses like the cold and flu.

Antibiotics work very well to destroy and stop the growth of a living microorganism, usually a bacteria or fungi that causes infections. But they also cause gastrointestinal side effects. Probiotics have been shown to be effective in reducing these symptoms. Probiotics are the opposite of antibiotics, as they increase living microorganisms. Probiotics work by enhancing and helping to repopulate the intestines to produce beneficial bacteria. They promote life in the gut.

carrots and bok choy ready for roasting

The best time to take probiotics

If you're considering taking probiotics, when is the best time to take them? Since stress and diet can change the type and number of microbes in our gut, it turns out that any time you experience a trauma or stress event is a good time to take probiotics. Always check with your doctor and dietitian first to make sure the probiotics will not interfere with your medical treatment.

The best time to take probiotics is when there is a life change, such as the following:

  • After an infection, especially a gastrointestinal infection.

  • During and after you took a course of antibiotics.

  • After food poisoning.

  • International travel.

  • Any extreme stress, including divorce, moving, and changing jobs.

  • Colds and flu, or any time your immunity is compromised.

I always recommend the probiotics in food first. Most supplements have not been clinically tested and none of them are under the same regulations as our food supply and medicines are by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, sometimes we are unable to eat those foods right away, for example, after a bout of food poisoning or specific gastrointestinal infections. In those cases, you'll need to take probiotics in supplement form. Working with a dietitian will help you decide on the type of probiotic supplement that's right for you.

Probiotics help regulate bowel movements and strengthen immunity, all of which can be compromised by stress, and they're certainly worth a try.

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