Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) that have been shown to have a health benefit for humans. They are available in supplement form or in probiotic foods and drinks. Probiotics are thought to be akin to (and to increase the level of) the "good" bacteria found in your intestines. These "good" bacteria are thought to enhance our health through their support of our immune systems.
If these issues and many others are connected to gut health, then what elements are essential for digestive health? Consider this: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, upward of 60 million to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. In addition, digestive disease and disorders cost the United States over $100 billion per year.
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!

The probiotic industry is booming, but the benefits of probiotic products and the quantity of viable bacteria they contain can vary. So, instead of adding bacteria from an outside source, you might be better off consuming prebiotics, like fermentable fiber, which support your own beneficial bacteria, Dr. Cresci says. Good dietary sources of prebiotics include dried beans and other legumes, garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, certain artichokes, green bananas and wheat. Prebiotic supplements are available, as well.
Every day, we’re exposed to toxins and inflammation-causing molecules from food and the environment that negatively impact digestion through pathways, such as leaky gut, known in the medical field as intestinal hyperpermeability. In leaky gut, the tight junctions that are supposed to keep disease-contributing compounds from leaving the digestive system are disrupted, allowing a lot of things through into the bloodstream that don’t belong there.

Selecting a multi-strain probiotic is also consistent with the theory that filling your gut with enough good bacteria outcompetes any bad bacteria for the same space and resources. In your gut, the more diversified the good bacteria, the harder it is for the baddies to gain a foothold. With all this in mind, we only looked at supplements containing multiple strains of bacteria.


Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. These don't appear to cause illness. But more study is needed on the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.
“Microbiome” refers to the trillions of bacteria and microorganisms that live on and in our individual bodies. “There’s increased recognition of the various ways that the microbiome affects our health,” Lebwohl tells me. “And with that recognition comes the true observation that many bacteria are good for us. This goes against the old idea that bacteria equal germs, which equal harm. It turns out that many bacteria keep us healthy and probiotics could potentially support that notion.”
An imbalance in the gut microbiota is believed to contribute to a number of health problems, particularly gastrointestinal issues, as well as immune dysfunction and infections. The bacterial balance can be disrupted by medical conditions, emotional and physical stress, and, most notably, use of antibiotics, which destroy the good bacteria along with the bad.
If you want to supercharge your probiotic friends, you may want to feed them with prebiotics. That’s P-R-E-biotics. They nourish the good bacteria in your gut in order to keep them healthy against the bad bacteria. They should go hand-in-hand with probiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods, including bananas, whole grains, honey, garlic and onions. Try to get two to four servings of these prebiotic-rich foods a day.

Coming in at a close second, our runner-up as the best probiotic for women is the Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic. As the #1 recommended brand by pharmacists, it is easy to see why so many women are turning to Culturelle for their digestive health. Featuring the LGG culture and a laundry list of other healthy bacteria, this probiotic offers a wonderful balance between digestive and feminine health. The Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic is also taken in an easy, chewable tablet and can even be taken during pregnancy, making it one of the most versatile formulas we reviewed!


In the United States, most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which do not undergo the testing and approval process that drugs do. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure they're safe before they're marketed and that any claims made on the label are true. But there's no guarantee that the types of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you're taking them for. Health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, so you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options. As always, let your primary care provider know what you're doing.
You experience that afternoon slump and reach for a candy bar or a sugar-laden coffee. Or maybe you go through your day, starting with a breakfast of doughnuts or sugary cereal, and then proceed to sodas for drinks, cookies to snack on, dessert after dinner, and finally to a nighttime snack of ice cream. You know that feeling; it’s that I-have-to-have-something-sweet-and- I-have-to-have-it-NOW feeling.
Scientists are investigating probiotics, and their combined effects, by trying to classify the probiotic benefits of ingesting specific probiotic strains and understanding their role in the digestive tract. At present, the methodological and ethical limitations of human studies still make it difficult to fully understand the mechanisms of action of probiotics, but some explanations are available. Nevertheless, benefits linked to the consumption of probiotic strains have already been suggested (e.g. helping to support the immune system, help support digestive health), and others are still being investigated.

The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn't function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, H. pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it's never too late.


Many women eat yogurt or insert it into the vagina to treat recurring yeast infections, a "folk" remedy for which medical science offers limited support. Oral and vaginal administration of Lactobacilli may help in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis, although there isn't enough evidence yet to recommend it over conventional approaches. (Vaginosis must be treated because it creates a risk for pregnancy-related complications and pelvic inflammatory disease.) Probiotic treatment of urinary tract infections is under study.
Remember, while bacteria gets a bad rap, not all bacteria is bad: As New York City-based certified dietitian-nutritionist Gina Keatley tells Allure, plenty of microorganisms, including probiotics, actually help your body function. "Probiotics may help stabilize the protective barrier in our gut so bad microorganisms don't take root, stimulate the immune response, and aid in production of vitamins, such as vitamin K," she says. Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman, adds that while we have more to learn about the role of probiotics, beneficial bacteria is understood to help crowd out harmful bacteria in our bodies. This good bacteria may also help lower cholesterol, aid in reducing colds and acute respiratory infections, and reduce the occurrence of vaginal yeast infections, she says.
Better Health Review named Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 Plus on its list of the top probiotic supplements on the market. It contains less than a billion active probiotic cells per dosage, but it adds vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients for optimal health. It claims to be 100 percent vegetarian. Better Health Review gives Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 Plus a rating of 3.5 on a scale of 5.
The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.
Look for the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii (S. Boulardii)—you can take it as a separate supplement or find it in multi-strain probotics. Studies show that it is effective at preventing antibiotic-induced diarrhea and Clostridium diffcicile (C. difficile) infection, which a course of antibiotics can cause. Saccharomyces boulardii increases your secretory IgA—in other words, it strengthens the immune system in the gut. (Some people say that Saccharomyces boulardii is also the panacea for Candida—it’s a yeast that fights yeast—but while it’s helpful for some, other people do not tolerate it well, so I recommend trying it as an individual supplement first to see how you respond.)
Flu is short for influenza, an upper respiratory viral infection. The main problem for you, and the main advantage for the survival of influenza viruses, is that there are many variations that can cause illness. Flu shots are based on virus strains that are anticipated to be widespread. Sometimes those assumptions are correct and other times they are not. This section will show you one overlooked way to fortify your body to best avoid becoming sick with the flu at all, or how to recover if you do succumb. 

"This suggests that probiotics should not be universally given as a 'one-size-fits-all' supplement," study co-senior author Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, said in a statement. However, it may be possible to tailor probiotic treatments to the individual, based on the types of microbes already in his or her gut, as well as other factors, so that he or she gets the most benefit from probiotics, the researchers said.
Pure Therapeutics Power Probiotic 100B offers 100 billion CFUs of 4 powerful probiotic strains, including science darling, the HN019 strain of Bifidobacterium lactis. Since environmental factors, including moisture, oxygen and heat, can degrade the stability of your probiotics, Pure Therapeutics 100B is delivered in nitrogen-purged aluminum blister pacts, which ensure viability until the probiotic hits your system. No refrigeration is required.
While Lebwohl isn't comfortable endorsing a specific brand publicly, he did say "a widely used brand in which the compound is bifidobacteria or lactobaccilus seems like a reasonable way to go in a patient who is eager to give this a try, but would be best done under the supervision of a healthcare professional.” He does advise looking for a supplement with between 1 billion and 10 billion colony-forming units, or CFUs.

Hi Julia. I am 71 (male) and have had digestive issues for most of my life and no specific diagnosis. I eat fairly well, am not overweight, get gassy from many different foods and beverages. I have been using Culturelle for 9 months and feel the benefit from taking it is small. Your review leads me to believe there may be better choices. They certainly are not cheap but I will gladly pay for them if they give me results. I am probably going to try BlueBiotics unless you have other suggestions. My main question is since I live in Minnesota I will receive shipments in the summer with temps of up to + 100F and winters down to – 15F. Will this cause a decrease in product viability for this or other brands you recommended? Thank you for your help.


The discovery of the benefits of probiotics began with sour milk. Today we have many other options to get various bacteria from our foods, although it's not as simple as just adding them to the food. For there to be health benefits, the microorganism has to be able to survive the passage through the gastrointestinal tract, survive the food manufacturing process, and grow and survive during the ripening or storage period. Also, the bacteria must not negatively affect product quality and be included on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list.
The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.
Supplements play an important role when the diet is not adequate to supply our needs. In the case of probiotics, one's diet is the ideal source for probiotics. These are live bacteria and need to be carefully monitored, stored, and combined for the health benefits that one would be taking them for. At this time, supplements are not monitored in the U.S. the way that food or medication is. They fall under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). This requires that the dietary supplement or dietary ingredient manufacturer be responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement or ingredient is safe before it is marketed. The only time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may get involved is if action is needed to be taken against a manufacturer after the supplement is marketed and then found to be unsafe. This means that as much as we may know about probiotics, we can't be certain of the safety or content of the supplements available to us.
The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.
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