By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Probiotics have generated quite a bit of buzz in the health and wellness circuits lately. Not only can you now get your daily amount through supplements and fermented foods, but this beneficial form of bacteria is also frequently added to snack bars, cereals, ice creams and even chewing gums.
However, not all probiotic supplements are created equal, and certain types of probiotics stand out for both their quality and potential health benefits.
So do probiotics do anything? And what is the best probiotic supplement? Let’s look at why you should consider adding a probiotic supplement to your routine and how to pick the best one.
What Are Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the digestive tract that can support healthy digestive function, support a healthy immune system and promote regular bowel function.
What’s more, certain types of probiotics can also help to maintain a healthy gut flora, which can impact several other aspects of health as well.
Taking a probiotic supplement is an easy way to increase intestinal levels of beneficial bacteria to support a healthy you. Available in capsule, powder and pill forms, probiotic supplements typically contain a wide range of unique bacterial strains, plus billions of probiotics in every serving.
There are many different types of probiotics on the market, each of which varies based on numerous factors such as stability, strain diversity and CFUs (colony forming units) count.
There are several main groups of probiotic strains, including Bifidobacteria, Bacillus and Lactobacillus. In addition to being the most widely available in both probiotic foods and supplements, these probiotics have also been extensively studied for their ability to support healthy digestive and immune system function.
There are also many specific strains of bacteria, each of which has been shown to offer unique benefits. Some of the most well-studied probiotic strains that are found in the best probiotic supplements include:
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus clausii
- lactobacillus bifidobacterium
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus sporogenes
- Saccharomyces boulardii
In addition to probiotic supplements, many of these strains can also be found naturally in probiotic foods — such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, natto and miso. Fermented foods naturally feature many different types of probiotics, contributing to strain diversity which helps to maintain healthy gut flora.
1. Supports Cognitive Health
Some types of probiotic supplements are formulated specifically to support cognitive health. Some of our SBO probiotic formulas, for example, feature clinically studied ashwagandha root extract, an ingredient that can help support a healthy response to stress and support focus, a healthy memory, mental clarity and concentration.
2. Promotes Proper Digestion
Adding probiotic foods or supplements to your daily routine can bring big benefits when it comes to digestive health. Not only can it help support healthy bowel transit time and digestive function, but certain strains of probiotics can also support healthy elimination and the body’s natural cleansing process.
Plus, some strains of probiotics may even reduce occasional constipation, gas and bloating while also relieving occasional gut discomfort.
3. Supports Healthy Immune System Function
More and more mounting evidence has found that gut health may be closely connected to immune system function. Many specific strains of probiotics have been shown to help support a healthy immune system and support healthy immune system function.
What’s more, some types of probiotic formulas can also support a healthy inflammation response, another key aspect of immune health.
4. Supports a Healthy Weight
Certain types of probiotics can help promote healthy weight management through several different mechanisms. For example, some strains of probiotics can promote regular bowel function, support healthy elimination and relieve occasional bloating.
Meanwhile, other types can support the normal breakdown of complex carbohydrates and promote proper digestion and nutrient absorption, which could also be beneficial when it comes to healthy weight management.
5. Maintains Oral Health
Not only can probiotics help maintain a healthy gut flora to support digestive function, but they may also help maintain oral health. This is because there are many types of bacteria in the mouth, and maintaining the right balance can help optimize oral health.
Certain types of probiotics have been shown to help maintain oral health, which could aid in keeping your overall mouth healthy.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic
There are several factors to consider when picking the best probiotic supplement that will fit your personal needs and preferences.
Here are a few of the top things to look for when choosing from the many available probiotic supplements:
1. Brand quality
Buy from reputable retailers with readily available probiotic reviews from customers.
2. High CFU count
“CFUs” stands for colony forming units. Be sure to purchase a supplement that has a higher number of probiotics, anywhere from 15 billion CFU to 100 billion CFU.
3. Survivability and strain diversity
Check for strains like Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bacillus clausii and other cultures or formulas that ensure that probiotics make it to the gut and are able to colonize.
4. Prebiotics and supplementary ingredients
Prebiotics provide the fuel necessary for probiotics to grow and thrive. High-quality probiotic supplements should have both prebiotics and other ingredients designed to support healthy digestion and immune system function.
Examples of these ingredients are (preferably fermented) flaxseed, chia seed, cañihua seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean and turmeric.
5. Stability and organism types
Some probiotic strains need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency while others are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration. Unfortunately, most refrigerated probiotics never fully make it past the stomach because they aren’t stable and can’t withstand the harsh stomach environment.
Instead, look for a hardy, shelf-stable product that contains soil-based organisms. Choosing a “survivable” supplement, such as Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotic formulas, is a wise investment.
Soil-based organisms (or SBOs) are often hardier than other types of probiotics and resistant to harsh environments, including stomach acid, plus they don’t need to be refrigerated. Soil-based organisms are the same microbes found in dirt that help support plant life, making them more resilient overall.
6. Plant Starches and Fiber vs. Sugar
Some of the best probiotics are those that are referred to as “synbiotics.” These are dietary supplements that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. The best synbiotics contain healthy plant starches and fiber rather than sugar to help feed the probiotics and help them grow.
7. Living vs. “die off”
“Live and active cultures” are a better bet than “made with active cultures.” After fermentation, the product may be heat-treated, which helps extend shelf-life, but can cause “die off” of both good and bad bacteria in the process.
Some types of probiotics are also geared towards specific interests and health goals, as well as specially formulated for men versus women.
Our SBO Probiotics line, for example, features formulated soil-based organism probiotics with select ingredients that help to support other aspects of health that go beyond the benefits provided by many bacterial strains, including:
Probiotics for Women vs. Men
What are the best probiotics for women, and how do they differ from those intended to support men?
Probiotics formulated for women typically include strains such as Bacillus coagulans, Bacillus subtilis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bacillus clausii, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri. Benefits of these strains for women include contributing to overall female health and promoting healthy digestion and offering healthy immune system support.
Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotics Women’s features a blend of 25 CFUs of SBOs per serving in combination with organic fermented blend of superfoods such as chasteberry and ashwagandha. These botanicals are added to help support women’s health, such as by helping to reduce stress and promote a positive mindset, and helping to reduce fatigue.
Probiotics formulated for men often include strains such as Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus coagulans, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium.
Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotic Men’s supplies men with 25 CFUs of SBOs per serving, in combination with an organic fermented blend of ashwagandha, fenugreek, ginger and fo-ti root. This product is formulated specifically to help support men’s health by helping to boost muscle mass, strength, serum testosterone levels and recovery while also supporting digestive and immune system health.
Rotate Your Probiotics?
Diversity within the microbiome is a good thing, which may lead you to assume that rotating your probiotic supplement to consume a greater range of microbes is ideal. However, this isn’t always necessarily the case,
Research has shown that certain strains of bacteria living in the gut that have some of the most benefits need to be continuously replenished in order to maintain a high population of these strains.
Certain probiotics also help other beneficial strains to thrive and populate in your gut, which means focusing on taking these strains can have various benefits. One example is Lactobacillus acidophilus, which seems to support growth of other healthy microbes.
If you find that your current probiotic supplement is working well for you, then you don’t necessarily need to replace it with a new one after several months. However, as always, you should consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.
Instead, focus on finding a product that is intended to help with your health interests, and take it consistently. In order to benefit from some of the best probiotics, it’s recommended that you consume them consistently, such as by taking a daily probiotic supplement. This helps to replenish probiotic levels and to offer ongoing digestive support.
Probiotic supplements may cause minor adjustment times for some people, especially when first getting started. However, consistent, daily use is important.
As always, if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications, it’s best to consult with your doctor before starting supplementation.
- Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the gut that have been linked to a number of impressive health benefits.
- Certain types of probiotic strains and formulations may help maintain oral health and support healthy immune system function, mental clarity, digestive function, healthy skin and digestive function.
- Be sure to purchase from a reputable retailer and pay close attention to the strain diversity, number of billions of CFUs, supplementary ingredients and stability to ensure you’re getting a high-quality supplement.
- You may choose to opt for a SBO probiotic (featuring soil-based organisms) because these don’t need to be refrigerated and can withstand harsh environments, including stomach acid, while they make it to your intestines.
- Also consider choosing a product based on your specific needs, for example one that is formulated for women versus men, or that focuses on supporting healthy digestion, skin, etc.
Rachael Link, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dietetics at the University of Central Missouri and later received her Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Rachael is passionate about plant-based nutrition and enjoys providing easy-to-understand information to readers looking to support their health.