How Long Does It Take For Probiotics To Work?
If you’re a fan of mealtime multitasking, chances are, probiotics are making their way into your lunch sack. The truth is, convenience is a short-term solution; after years of eating on the go, well… going can become a bit of an issue.
So exactly how long does it take for your cup of yogurt to regulate your gut?
Probiotics Supplementation 101
Understanding probiotic supplementation goes something like this: introduce good bacteria to the intestinal tract, good bacteria multiply to outnumber bad bacteria, health benefits occur.
This implantation of good gut bacteria has proven to cure yeast infections, reduce lactose intolerance, and even treat some forms of cancer. That being said, most proponents of a probiotic diet focus on its strongest (and scientifically soundest) benefit: gastrointestinal health.
In terms of guts, probiotics can do a whole lot of good and “regulation” is exactly the right word to describe its benefits. Take diarrhea and constipation- they are exact opposite ailments, yet studies across the gastrointestinal spectrum point to probiotics as an effective way to treat them.
Diarrhea and constipation are both caused by a disruption in the digestive system’s bacterial balance. Probiotics treat these symptoms by restoring bacteria and thus regulating the digestive system.
Bacterial Generation Time
The tricky part, and the sole reason yogurt isn’t being marketed as a treatment to something more sophisticated than “gut regulation”, is that manufacturers haven’t yet perfected the administration of probiotics.
The whole “plant good bacteria” concept is far more complicated than it sounds because probiotics are essentially live microorganisms. Transporting them to the gut in peak condition is not an easy task and transporting enough to make a difference is even harder.
The amount of time it takes for a bacterial species to double is known as its generation time. This factor is responsible for the speed at which a probiotic-rich supplement will work.
The two types of bacteria used in probiotic products are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, both of which have very short generation times. These strains can double their numbers within three hours, which means that they can start working immediately by colonizing food while it travels through the digestive tract.
All that being said, the dilemma of administration still remains. Yes, the bacterial strains used in most probiotic supplements have a short generation time and that would theoretically translate to health benefits, but it all comes down to how you take your probiotics.
Probiotics are marketed in a few different forms, the most popular of which is fortified yogurt. Dannon was so successful in marketing it’s own probiotic product, Activia, that in its first year on the market, it made over $100 million in profit in the United States alone.
While yoghurt has certainly been the most profitable way to administer probiotics, they can also come in encapsulated powders. In both methods, probiotics come in the form of live cells, dead or inactivated (heat) cells, or cell parts.
Amino acids and ascorbic acids, which serve as growth factors are also often coupled with the administration of probiotics. These enable lyophilized (or dehydrated) cells to overcome the lag phase faster and start the colonizing stage.
The dehydrated cells mentioned above are referred to as “lyophilized”. This process preserves biological material by removing water from the bacterial sample. Lyophilized cells are frozen and then dried utilizing a vacuum; this ensures safe passage through the digestive tract and enables manufacturers to pursue a wider array of probiotic products.
Long-Term vs Short-Term Probiotics
Knowing how long it will take a certain probiotic-rich food to provide relief depends on the probiotic form used in production.
Live probiotics generally provide long-term relief in the form of regulation. This was Dannon’s marketing strategy, and surely enough, Activia was launched with a “two-week challenge” to better digestive health. Live probiotics work by colonizing the digestive tract, thereby regulating digestive processes.
Lyophilized probiotics on the other hand, can provide quick relief given their independence from their immediate environmental conditions. This form of probiotic administration however, only works in cases where colonization and long-term signaling is irrelevant to the need for relief. So, say- diarrhea caused by ingestion of antibiotics.
Proactive Probiotic Consumers
Going back to the original question, probiotics can start working within a couple of hours or a couple of weeks. The matter is really a question of what type of relief is required.
Most probiotic products are going to be marketed for long-term relief or preventative purposes so it is likely that products marketed in this fashion are going to contain live probiotics. This means that relief will come in the form of regulation over the course of a couple of weeks.
For quicker relief, look for probiotics containing lyophilized bacteria. These won’t provide any long-term effects, but they can provide immediate relief from certain digestive issues.
The safest bet in choosing a product fortified with probiotics is to do some research before hand- don’t expect to find enough information on site to make an effective choice. Since most probiotic products are marketed to maximize profit, packaging often omits any information pertaining to the actual type of probiotics used in the product. This can make a need-based choice almost impossible.
- Cochrane. Probiotics for the Prevention of Pediatric Antibiotic-associated Diarrhea (AAD). Web. 14 Sept. 2015 <http://www.cochrane.org/CD004827/IBD_probiotics-for-the-prevention-of-pediatric-antibiotic-associated-diarrhea-aad>.
- “Probiotics May Ease Constipation- Harvard Health Blog”. Harvard Health Blog RSS. Aug. 2014. Web. 15. Sept. 2015. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/probiotics-may-ease-constipation-201408217377>.
- “Considerations for Use of Probiotic Bacteria to Modulate Human Health.” Considerations for Use of Probiotic Bacteria to Modulate Human Health. Web. 14. Sept. 2015. <http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/2/384.long>.
- “Eating Your Way to Health; Companies Are Marketing Fortified Foods to the Drug-Wary.” Eating Your Way to Health. 28 Dec. 2005. Web. 14. Sept. 2015. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst.fullpage.html?res=9C06EED61230F93BA15751C1A9639C8B63>.