Probiotic use has surged over the last decade. According to the International Food Information Council's 2021 Food and Health Survey, about 32 percent of Americans actively try to consume probiotics. That's way up from the 1.6 percent of adults that the 2012 National Health Interview Survey found just some nine years earlier. If you're thinking about joining the probiotic movement, here's what you need to know to get you started on your journey toward better health.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when taken in sufficient amounts.1 They work by colonizing the gut and promoting a healthy balance of microorganisms in the digestive tract. Consisting mainly of bacteria, these microorganisms are naturally present in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. They’re also often added to other food products and are available as dietary supplements.
The Benefits of a Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics get a lot of attention for their positive effects on gut health—and for good reason: numerous studies show that probiotics are a safe and effective treatment for gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome–related abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence.2 But a growing body of evidence indicates that probiotics have the potential for even greater health benefits. New data suggest that probiotic use can improve GERD symptoms, such as regurgitation and heartburn.3 A daily probiotic could also alter the brain waves responsible for relaxation and attention for better brain function during exercise.4 Pre- and postnatal probiotic consumption likely plays a big role in preventing asthma.5 And probiotics’ anti-inflammatory actions can help alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, allowing RA sufferers to better perform daily activities.6
The Importance of Probiotic Strains
Unfortunately, you don’t get all of those benefits by simply “taking probiotics.” Instead, it’s critical to find the individual probiotic strain, or strains, that address your health concerns. Researchers have identified nearly 8,000 unique ones7—all with their own uses and benefits. But as always, speak with your doctor before starting a new probiotic supplement.
Understanding the names of probiotic strains will help you determine which product is right for you. Probiotics are categorized by genus, species, and specific strain code. Take, for example, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, one of “The Friendly Trio” shown to improve quality of life for those with constipation.8 Bifidobacterium is the name of the genus, bifidum is the species, and G9-1 is the strain responsible for the those particular benefits. On the other hand, Bifidobacterium bifidum Bf-688 is associated with improving ADHD symptoms in children.9 Same genus and species, but different strain code and impact.
Different Species, Different Sources
There are three main types of probiotic bacterial species:
Human. Human-origin probiotics are species of beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in the human body. Despite the name, these organisms do not come from human sources; rather, human-origin probiotics contain the same species of bacteria that naturally reside in the human gut, with two of the most common ones being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium
Dairy. Dairy products such as yogurt and kefir contain live beneficial bacteria that are added during the fermentation process. Though effective, these probiotics aren’t for everyone as dairy products can present problems for some users. What’s more, probiotics often don’t survive the pasteurizing process used in many popular yogurts.
Soil-based. Soil-based probiotics are tiny organisms that occur naturally in the earth. They perform the same job for plants as bacteria in your gut do for you. Containing species of bacilli, these probiotics can survive in harsh conditions and have a natural resistance to stomach acid.
Which type of species is more effective? That will depend on which works best for you. That said, a 2018 International Journal of Medical Sciences report showed that human-origin strains have greater efficacy compared to probiotics that come from dairy or plant sources.10
What to Look For in a Probiotic Supplement
Besides the particular species and strain, there are a few other things to consider when choosing a probiotic supplement. First pay attention to the colony forming unit (CFU) number. This figure tells you how many bacterial cells you’ll be getting in each dose. A lot of probiotic supplements contain 1 to 10 billion CFUs per dose, with some boasting up to 50 billion CFUs or more. But more isn’t always better as higher CFU counts don’t necessarily translate to increased health benefits.
Next, make sure the probiotic is guaranteed to be live at the expiration date (not at date of manufacture) and check the date on the packaging. This matters because the CFU counts tend to decline over time, making the product less potent. And you don’t want to waste money on a supplement that will be expired by the time you take it.
Finally, do a little research. Make sure that your probiotic strain has been clinically tested so you know that it will do what you want. Remember that probiotics efficacy is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so it’s important to find a product that’s been independently evaluated. Look for a brand that can show clinical studies that include the species and strains used in their blends.
Don’t Forget the Prebiotics
Because probiotics are live organisms, they need plenty of nutrients to thrive. That’s where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are a type of nondigestible dietary fiber that serves as food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut, stimulating their growth and activity.1 When paired in a single supplement—called a synbiotic—the results are compelling: in a recent review, the combination of probiotics and prebiotics was shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving several meaningful markers, such as LDL (bad) cholesterol and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein.11
Probiotic Supplements to Try
Maintain good colon health, relieve occasional digestive discomfort, and promote healthy immune function with Kyo-Dolphilus Daily Probiotic. Boasting The Friendly Trio™ of probiotics: Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2, this daily supplement can help get your digestive health back on track and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Maximize the effectiveness of your probiotic by taking one that combines probiotics and prebiotics. Pro+ Synbiotic contains nine strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria species along with a proprietary prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria to help maintain bacterial balance.
When it comes to choosing a probiotic for better health, not any supplement will do. To find the right product, you need to understand what’s in your probiotic. Identifying the appropriate strain(s) and adding a prebiotic will go a long way in helping you achieve your health goals.
- Martín R, Langella P. Emerging Health Concepts in the Probiotics Field: Streamlining the Definitions. Front Microbiol. 2019;10:1047.
- Niu HL. The efficacy and safety of probiotics in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: Evidence based on 35 randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Surgery. 2020;75:116–27.
- Cheng J. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Probiotics: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2020; 12(1):132.
- Adikari AMGCP. Effects of Daily Probiotics Supplementation on Anxiety Induced Physiological Parameters among Competitive Football Players. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):1920.
- Du X. Efficacy of probiotic supplementary therapy for asthma, allergic rhinitis, and wheeze: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Allergy & Asthma Proceedings. 2019;40(4).
- Bungau SG. Targeting Probiotics in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Nutrients. 2021;13(10):3376.
- Poyet M. A library of human gut bacterial isolates paired with longitudinal multiomics data enables mechanistic microbiome research. Nat Med. 2019;25:1442–52.
- Fuyuki A. Efficacy of Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1 in improving quality of life in patients with chronic constipation: a prospective intervention study. Biosci Microbiota Food Health. 2021;40(2):105–14.
- Wang LJ. Effect of Bifidobacterium bifidum on Clinical Characteristics and Gut Microbiota in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J Pers Med. 2022;12(2):227.
- Vemuri R. A human origin strain Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 exhibits superior in vitro probiotic efficacy in comparison to plant or dairy origin probiotics. Int J Med Sci. 2018;15(9):840–8.
- Wu H. Potential Benefits of Probiotics and Prebiotics for Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke. Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2878.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.