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:
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 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.