Walk into any grocery store, and you will likely find more than a few “probiotic” products brimming with so-called beneficial bacteria that are supposed to treat everything from constipation to obesity to depression. In addition to foods traditionally prepared with live bacterial cultures (such as yogurt and other fermented dairy products), consumers can now purchase probiotic capsules and pills, fruit juices, cereals, sausages, cookies, candy, granola bars and pet food. Indeed, the popularity of probiotics has grown so much in recent years that manufacturers have even added the microorganisms to cosmetics and mattresses.
Keep in mind that when supplements contain a specific number of organisms, this number may not be what is actually within each capsule at the time of purchase. Probiotics are living organisms and can die out easily. Especially if that supplement sits on your drugstore or warehouse shelf for months or longer, the number of organisms you get may be far less than what the bottle claims. Hardier strains have a longer shelf life. Capsule strength decays faster if the probiotic has been sitting around at elevated temperatures during transport to the store. Companies actually have to produce probiotics with a much higher CFU (colony-forming units; see below) count in each capsule in order to guarantee the label potency by the expiration date.
In addition to the impact on our immune systems, our digestive systems are the second largest part of the neurological system. It’s called the enteric nervous system and is located in the gut. This is why it’s called the second brain — the gut is responsible for creating 95 percent of the serotonin and may have significant impact on brain function and mood.

Probiotics have also been researched for how they support the immune system. Studies suggest that probiotics can improve how the immune system functions such as by decreasing upper respiratory tract infections in adults and reducing the need for antibiotics. Studies in children show that a regular diet including probiotics reduces colds and flu-like symptoms and improves attendance in preschool and day care settings.
If you have a tendency to forget to take your probiotics (which, let’s be honest, we all have), try storing them in a place that you look at directly each and every day. We recommend somewhere like your bathroom sink near your toothbrush or even on your kitchen counter, so you never miss a dosage! This one can be taken with or without food, and it doesn’t have to be stored in the fridge – perfect!
According to the NIH, probiotic supplements contain many microorganisms that are the same as or similar to the ones that naturally live in your body, but there's still a lot of research to be done on probiotics and how they work. It's important to keep in mind that not all probiotics have the same effects and that taking probiotics isn't a guarantee of better health. And while they're generally safe for healthy people to take, with side effects being limited to mild digestive discomfort, they could interact with certain medications or pose health risks to people with underlying medical problems — that's why it's smart to talk to your doctor before getting started with a supplement.
Prebiotic fibers are the non-digestible parts of food that are typically found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These fibers act as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut, and are an essential part of the digestive process. That’s why the Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic contains prebiotics and probiotics for a truly complete formula that helps ease digestive issues while also maintaining proper feminine health.
Probiotics can also help offset the bacterial imbalance caused by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the harmful ones, often leading to gas, cramping or diarrhea. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of many conditions such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease.
If you’ve ever experienced the crippling pain of a urinary tract infection, you’ve probably encountered an article or two about the benefits of cranberries for warding off bacteria in the urinary tract. While it may seem like an old wives tale, cranberries contain D-Mannose that is naturally acidic. This compound has been said to prevent unwanted bacteria build-up, and some claim it can even stop a urinary tract infection dead in its tracks!
In October 2013, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) organized a meeting of clinical and scientific experts on probiotics (with specialties in gastroenterology, pediatrics, family medicine, gut microbiota, microbiology of probiotic bacteria, microbial genetics, immunology, and food science) to reexamine the concept of probiotics. They define probiotics as "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." They also differentiated between products containing probiotics and those containing live or active cultures and established the following criteria:
Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that inhabit your body. Sound strange? These microscopic roommates can be your best buds if you show them a little love. One surefire way to do that is with probiotic supplements. Probiotics support the right ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut. For bonus points, call on digestive enzymes. These unique blends offer specific nutritional support to assist digestion and nutrient absorption. Your healthy body will quickly appreciate these lifelong friends.
For most of my life, I thought of probiotics as something I’d only drink if I lost a bet. Then stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) turned my intestinal tract into a nonstop river of shit—we’re talking weeks of everything I ate shooting straight out my butt in liquid form. The internet said probiotics were my best non-pharmaceutical bet to help my digestive system calm down, so I swallowed my pride (and my first kombucha ever) and kinda sorta saw the light. My IBS wasn’t cured, but probiotics did help me spend less time on the toilet wide-eyed with terror, and more time doing what’s really important in life—watching TV with my family.
Third-party testing: Lastly, it's important to remember that probiotics are an unregulated supplement. "Find out whether there is third-party data verifying the potency, purity, and effectiveness of the product," suggests Dena Norton, a registered dietitian and holistic nutrition coach. "Remember that dietary supplements aren't regulated, so you can't necessarily just trust the claims on the label." Check out AEProbio, a site that has compiled research on specific brands of probiotics available in the U.S., recommends Scarlata, and an NSF seal is always a good marker to look for.
Twenty-one volunteers were given a course of antibiotics and then split into three groups. The first group were left to let the microbiome recover without any interventions, the second group were given probiotics and the third were given a fecal transplant of their own gut bacteria which was collected before the antibiotic treatment. The study found that the probiotics easily colonized the gut of the second group, but worryingly, rather than aiding the return of the normal gut microbiome, the probiotics actually significantly delayed it for months compared to both the group that had no intervention and the people who received a transplant of their own gut bacteria.
We started our search with the most popular products from major supplement retailers like Amazon, Drugstore.com, GNC, and Whole Foods. That gave us over 200 supplements. With so many options, we then narrowed our search to 70 probiotics whose purity, potency, and projected efficacy have been vetted by an independent lab like ConsumerLab, Labdoor or the National Science Foundation (NSF). Those labs test — among other things — supplements’ actual composition against labels, verifying ingredient lists are truthful and that contaminants aren’t present. Because supplement claims aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we wanted to make sure someone was testing whether they worked as described.

Twenty-one volunteers were given a course of antibiotics and then split into three groups. The first group were left to let the microbiome recover without any interventions, the second group were given probiotics and the third were given a fecal transplant of their own gut bacteria which was collected before the antibiotic treatment. The study found that the probiotics easily colonized the gut of the second group, but worryingly, rather than aiding the return of the normal gut microbiome, the probiotics actually significantly delayed it for months compared to both the group that had no intervention and the people who received a transplant of their own gut bacteria.
As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗
×