The Best Probiotic Supplements

As the title of this article implies, here is where you will find information on the best probiotics on the market. Guidance provided by the International Scientific Association For Probiotics And Prebiotics (ISAPP), PubMED and NCCAM advises that the best probiotic supplements: (1) Are identified and sold at the strain level (i.e. with information on the genus, species and strain); (2) Provide sufficient quantities of live bacteria to confer a health benefit; and (3) Have undergone controlled evaluation to support the health claims being made.

What is the best probiotic?

As different probiotic bacteria strains will have a different effect on your health, it is not possible to identify which probiotic is best for all situations. But when it comes to general therapeutic probiotics that confer a range of health benefits, these 2 probiotic supplements stand out from the crowd:

Align Probiotic
Probiotic Strain: Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 (referred to as Bifantis)
Scientific studies have shown that the probiotic strain used in Align helps build and maintain a healthy digestive system. Align has also been shown to alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome and result in significant improvement for abdominal pain/discomfort, bloating/distention, and bowel movement difficulty. Some would argue that it is the best probiotic supplement to counter the effects of antibiotics. Align contains 1 billion CFUs per capsule, is supported by clinical trials and does not require refrigeration if kept in the original blister packet.
Acidophilus Pearls
Probiotic Strain: Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Longum
Great for overall health and digestion. This is a multi-strain probiotic that contains 1 billion Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum species. The product is designed to mimic the bacteria found in yogurt, but providing them in higher dosages. Acidophilus pearls is one of the best selling probiotic products on the market and is sold in a protective pearl capsule to ensure the live bacteria are not damaged as they pass through stomach. Although we normally recommend identifying the probiotic down to the strain level (the manufacturers indicate that information on the strains is proprietary), Acidophilus pearls consistently receives positive reviews from users and has passed quality tests carried out by Consumerlab.

The health benefits of probiotics you can expect

Probiotics are live microorganisms, which when ingested, provide health benefits by improving the balance of healthy intestinal flora (microflora) in the gut. The most common microorganisms used as probiotics are Lactic acid bacteria (the best known being Lactobacillus acidophilus) and Bifidobacterium strains.

Studies have linked the best probiotics with a wide range of health benefits including:

  • Management of antibiotic associated diarrhea and traveler’s diarrhea.
  • Reducing inflammation in the gut and assisting in the management of inflammatory bowel syndromes.
  • Preventing harmful bacterial growth and associated toxins.
  • Yeast infection treatment by restoring the natural balance of gut microflora thought to keep Candida yeast growth in check. Probiotics such as Threelac are often recommended as part of a Candida diet or yeast free diet.
  • Managing lactose intolerance via the action of lactic acid bacteria.
  • Prevention of colon and bowel cancers. It is thought that probiotics may bind with carcinogenic substances or reduce the activity of harmful enzymes.  More clinical trials are needed to study these probiotics benefits.
  • Improving the absorptive capacity of the gut.
  • Some studies link robust probiotic populations with better management of cholesterol levels.

Untangling the definitions: Probiotics, Antibiotics, Prebiotics and Symbiotics

It’s useful to think of probiotics, which add beneficial bacteria, in contrast with antibiotics, which are designed to destroy bacteria in the body. Probiotics are often recommended following a course of antibiotics in order to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics, comprised of live bacteria, are sometimes confused with prebiotics, which are non-digestible ingredients, (usually oligosaccharides), that stimulate the activity of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. Note also that synbiotics are nutritional supplements combining probiotics and prebiotics.

Choosing the best probiotic supplement

There is no standardized manufacturing process for probiotic supplements, so their effectiveness varies between products. Labeling is poorly regulated and you will find that certain foods and supplements – while labeled as ‘probiotic’ – may not be providing sufficient quantities of viable bacteria strains to confer any health benefits.  (Note: The two products we have set out above meet the quality criteria that you should apply when reviewing your options).

While the lack of consistently applied quality criteria makes it hard to determine what is the best probiotic, the following bullets will help steer you in the right direction:

  • While probiotics supplements are available in liquid, powder or capsule form, most health professionals recommend purchasing probiotic capsules or pearls. In particular it is important to make sure the capsule has been specifically designed to withstand stomach acids and pancreatic bile that are harmful to bacteria, allowing the live bacteria they contain to pass intact to the gastro-intestinal tract. Read our probiotic pearls reviews for more insight on delivery methods.
  • Multi-strain probiotics that contain both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, such as Acidophilus Pearls for example, are the most common. These replicate the bacteria found in most healthy diets. While technically the term “Acidophilus” or “Acidophilus supplement” describes a single species called Lactobacillus Acidophilus, it has become a generic name for a group of probiotics that may also include other species.
  • The concentration of bacteria is measured in colony forming units (CFUs) and will vary from product to product. Studies have shown health benefits for products ranging from 30 million to more than 1 trillion CFU/day, but more CFUs does not always mean better quality. The best probiotics provide very specific information on the strains provided and how many CFUs per strain. See information provided by Align probiotic for example.
  • If a specific health claim is made the manufacturer should provide details of verifiable, independent scientific studies to back these up.
  • Products should have an expiration date and the best probiotics supplements use inert packaging, usually glass, that does not allow for any contamination. Note that some products will require refrigeration.
  • Look for contact details for the manufacture and avoid products where this is not provided.

18 Responses to “The Best Probiotic Supplements”

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  1. Stan says:

    I agree that higher numbers does not necessarily mean better quality. But I would go for a certain level of billions, as opposed to millions. When you consider the gut has around 100 trillion bacteria!…

  2. Jack says:

    Good health info on probiotics here. Whenever I buy yogurt I try to make sure that it contains probiotics in it, even if it costs more. Can’t really put a price on good health!

  3. Donna says:

    Probiotics supplements contain “good bacteria” that provide good digestive defense. That’s a fact!

  4. Dawn says:

    Usually probiotics should contain billions of cfu rather than millions but the important point is to see what the dosage used in successful studies was. That is always going to be the optimum dose and taking more will not necessarily do you any more good.

    This is an important point because some probiotic supplements, particularly the multi probiotic ones, contain very small amounts of each species. So although the overall quantity might be high, if the cfu of the one you particularly want is small then you could be better off buying a brand that contains only that probiotic.

  5. Rita paine says:

    I have taken 45 days of the new probiotic Phillips Intestinal health, what type of results are you supposed to see to tell if you are getting the benefit of the product before buying another 45 days worth. It appears Phillips happens to be about double the price of the Pearls. Thank you

  6. Mary Glen says:

    We have not reviewed the Phillips brand you mention so cannot comment directly on that particular product. Bear in mind that probiotics are designed to improve the balance of microflora in the gut. A healthy gut will support your overall well-being, but not always in a way that is felt immediately. They are part of the equation for healthy living, but not the whole equation. My suggestion is to think longer term. Make a concerted effort to improve your lifestyle, including taking probiotics, then maybe several months later, or even a few years later you’ll look back and know that you feel better than you did previously.

  7. When it comes to probiotics, I have some experience. I have had IBS for years and tried different probiotics supplements for inflammations and other problems. But I also prepare my own fermented vegetables at home. Don’t underestimate homemade probiotic products. This has proved very effective as the healthy bacteria strains in these vegetables are very potent. One tablespoon of cultured vegetables corresponds to about one quart yogurt in therms of the number of bacteria you get. And the bacteria are first generation, not the trillionth, as in many supplements that use bacteria from laboratories. I mostly use cabbage and carrots because it’s fast, cheap and delicious.

    Thanks for a nice site and very good recommendations.

  8. Mary Glen says:

    Thanks “probiotics fan” – probiotics from fermented vegetables is something I plan to research in the future. The notion of a “first tier” or “first generation” bacteria is an interesting one that I have yet to explore.

  9. The idea of a first generation bacteria intrigues me as well. Wow, I never even thought of making your own probiotics at home. But I had heard that probiotic supplements delivered way more than can be found in yogurt. Do you think it is worth trying to get yogurt with the probiotics in it -quality or quantity-wise?

  10. Bethany says:

    This is very good info! I’ve always had to focus on trying to get lots of the good gut bacteria since I was 14 – I went to Mexico and got the Giardia parasite… took forever to get rid of it and ever since then, I’ve had digestive problems. I probably should supplement, just never really knew what to try.

  11. Probiotics seem to be something I haven’t considered much. This is certainly the website to discover more about them. Thanks for taking the time to produce some excellent content.

  12. Elle says:

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about probiotics and reasons to take them regularly. The only problem is then figuring out which ones to take. So these reviews are very helpful to those of us who are new to probiotics. Thanks so much…

  13. Debra Eckerling says:

    Interesting info. I prefer to have my probiotics in foods like yogurt. I will definitely look into these supplements, since I keep hearing about all the benefits!

  14. Mary Glen says:

    Susan, great question about yogurt. Although many yogurts are advertised as “probiotic” or “live” they don’t always have sufficient quantities of viable bacteria to confer a health benefit. You need to be careful when choosing. I’d suggest only purchasing products that have information on the specific strain of probiotic being provided (and not just some general reference to Lactobacillus or “acidophilus”); as well as the quantity of colony forming units (CTUs).

  15. Excellent article Mary. Wonderful of you to share solid healthy information.

  16. Ron says:

    My Dr. said that I will need to be on antibiotics for a year due to a bone infection. There are sooooo many supplements to choose from; not to mention a $30 price difference per bottle. Will Kimchi, or sauerkraut, or yogurt, and the like have the same effect as pills?

  17. Jamie says:

    In my experience, it is best to find a Probiotic that contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium with over 30 billion Microorganisms. The quality of the Probiotic makes a big difference.

  18. Chrissy says:

    Thank you so much for reviewing these different probiotics supplements. I have been looking for the best ones to get and you have given me a great head start. I had no idea what I should have been looking for, and now I know exactly what I need! Thanks!

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