Taking probiotics? Maybe you’ve been taking them consistently for a few days now (or longer) and you haven’t noticed any improvement in your symptoms yet.
That begs the question -- how long does it take for probiotics to work?
But let’s rewind first -- we need to understand how probiotics work before we can understand why and when they work.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics definition: According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when consumed in adequate amounts as part of food confer a health benefit on the host” (1).
This means probiotics are literal live, beneficial bacteria that you can add to your gut simply by consuming them.
You probably know that there are many benefits to taking probiotics. Perhaps you want to incorporate them into your routine for better digestive health. But you’re probably also wondering… how long does it take for probiotics to work?
We get it. When you’re looking for a solution to your digestive problems, you want something that works FAST. So let’s dive in and help you understand when you should start to notice major differences in your digestive health when you start taking probiotics.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Let’s back up -- why do you want to add bacteria to your gut, anyway?
The human body actually needs helpful bacteria to function properly. Helpful bacteria allow the body to properly digest food, absorb vitamins, regulate weight and inflammation, boost your immunity, and more.
Your body needs that good bacteria -- but it does not need excess harmful bacteria, which can sometimes start to overgrow in your gut.
When bad bacteria overgrow in the gut, you may begin to experience digestive problems like gas, bloating, constipation, and more.
The collection of good and bad bacteria in your gut is called your gut microbiome. It’s important to make sure you have much more good bacteria in your microbiome than bad. This balance is key to your digestive health.
If your microbiome has become imbalanced -- meaning there’s more bad bacteria in it than good -- you have what’s called “dysbiosis”, which is associated with a myriad of digestive and other health issues.
If you’re experiencing gut issues, rebalancing your microbiome with probiotics may go a long way towards improving your symptoms.
Probiotics in the Gut Microbiome
There are a few ways that adding good bacteria -- probiotics -- to the gut microbiome will help with dysbiosis.
First, ingesting probiotics adds beneficial bacteria directly to your gut microbiome, which helps to tip the balance of bacteria toward the good guys.
In addition to this, probiotics actually help to “push out” bad bacteria already in your gut; they produce antimicrobial compounds that can help eliminate the harmful bacteria.
Reduce Inflammation with Probiotics & Improve Digestive Symptoms
Here comes the big one - probiotics (and prebiotics) reduce inflammation within the gut (and subsequently the rest of the body).
Inflammation is particularly detrimental to proper digestion. It exaggerates intestinal permeability, interferes with insulin signaling, and can cause digestive symptoms (read more about how inflammation interferes with digestion here).
Why does dysbiosis cause inflammation in the first place? Well, bad bacteria living within the gut have toxic molecules called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) in their outer membrane, which trigger an immune and inflammatory response in the body. And that response is associated with digestive symptoms, among other health issues.
With less bad bacteria and LPS around, inflammation will go down.
So let’s connect the dots… since probiotics may increase the amount of beneficial bacteria and reduce counts of bad bacteria in your gut, they may also reduce the amount of lipopolysaccharides in your body, which in turn lowers inflammation.
And lowering inflammation is key to improving your digestion, since inflammation is associated with digestive issues (1).
When Do Probiotics Start Working?
So we know lowering inflammation is key to improving digestive problems, but what does this have to do with when your probiotics will start to work?
Let’s do a quick recap: what does the probiotic need to accomplish to start to alleviate your digestive symptoms? It must…
- Begin to rebalance the gut microbiome (by adding good bacteria)
- Exert antimicrobial action against harmful bacteria and pathogens, reducing their numbers (this also helps to rebalance the microbiome)
- Lower inflammation by reducing the amount of lipopolysaccharides (LPS, a toxic molecule on the outer membrane of bad bacteria) in the gut and throughout the body.
Adding enough good bacteria to your microbiome to overpower bad bacteria takes time.
Consistent antimicrobial action to push harmful bacteria out also must occur consistently, over time, to be successful.
And lowering inflammation isn’t an immediate process either -- the amount of lipopolysaccharides in the gut will need time to taper off as well, and it will take even more time for the actual inflammation to diminish.
The reduction of inflammation in the gut (and elsewhere) is key to noticing a significant improvement in symptoms.
While your probiotics are working towards these three goals, you may experience some temporary, mild side effects. Click here to read more about how to avoid that.
Our customers tend to notice significant changes in their symptoms after taking our probiotics for 2 to 3 weeks, but it can sometimes take longer. Remember, everyone is different!
How long it takes for your symptoms to improve depends on how inflamed and unbalanced your microbiome was to begin with.
Probiotics + Prebiotics = The Ultimate Gut Health Combination
Probiotics are most definitely superheroes when it comes to rebalancing your microbiome and reducing lipopolysaccharide levels.
But probiotics’ trusty sidekick, prebiotics, can help push the process along, too.
Prebiotics are essentially “food” for your good bacteria. And if your good bacteria eat well, they grow in numbers.
Feeding your good bacteria prebiotics will help your probiotics accomplish their tasks -- up your good bacteria count, cut your bad bacteria count, and reduce inflammation.
Prebiotics come in natural forms in certain types of foods. But they can be concentrated into supplement form for extra strength too.
The Takeaway: How Long Does it Take for Probiotics to Work?
The short answer: It takes most people 2 to 3 weeks to feel significant benefits when they start taking probiotics.
That’s because probiotics need time to accomplish their three key goals: increase your good bacteria count, decrease your bad bacteria count, and reduce inflammation.
Overthrowing the bad bacteria that’s already in power, working to remove them, and reducing the inflammation that the bad bacteria had produced is a process.
Adding good bacteria in the form of probiotics (and adding prebiotics to help bring up counts of probiotics in the gut) is not a one-time thing -- you need to consume them consistently to win the war that’s going on down there.
Think of taking probiotics as adding more soldiers to the microbiome battlefield every day -- and think of taking prebiotics as giving your soldiers supplies.
Expecting one dose of probiotics to fix your symptoms is like expecting to win a war in a single day. Sending one small wave of good soldiers to the battlefield -- taking one probiotic pill -- won’t be enough to overthrow the king in power (bad bacteria).
But sending a well-supplied group of soldiers to battle on a daily basis will eventually be enough to put your desired ruler (good bacteria) back in power, so they can clean up the damage that bad bacteria has done (inflammation).
Give your gut the soldiers, supplies, and time it needs to fix things up, and you’ll finally feel your best again.