News flash: not all bacteria is bad. In fact, your body houses trillions of good bacteria to keep it running. You've probably heard that taking probiotics is good for your gut, but did you know they work by introducing beneficial bacteria to your digestive tract, which is considered the seat of your immune system?
By adding a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen, you'll not only boost your immune system and gut health, but you may also experience clearer skin, improved brain function, better digestion, and even weight loss.
Most probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated because they contain live cultures. For more on what you need to know when shopping for probiotics, here's our guide, which includes our picks for the best probiotic supplements. Our top product tackles hard-to-treat stomach woes with its unique probiotic strain.
Considerations when choosing probiotics
Common probiotic strains
Probiotic supplements usually contain a combination of bacteria strains. Diversity is a good thing: different strains help your body in different ways. Here are just some of the strains you can expect to find in a good probiotic supplement:
Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common type of probiotic strain that helps boost your immune system. It also helps lactose-intolerant folks digest dairy products better and helps with digestion in general.
Bifidobacterium bifidum is similar in effect to L. acidophilus in that it helps with digestion, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It may protect against some pathogens as well.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus is great for travelers hoping to prevent traveler's diarrhea. It may also soothe eczema, a chronic and common skin condition.
Bifidobacterium longum helps stop the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines and may help with constipation. Some studies suggest it also improves memory and brain function.
When choosing a probiotic, find one that includes strains that match your current health needs. Consulting a nutritionist, naturopath, or other healthcare provider can guide you toward strains aligned with your needs.
You'll want to select a probiotic supplement that contains a minimum of one billion CFUs (colony-forming units) per pill. For daily use, you don't need to go higher than 10 million CFUs per pill. For people taking antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill both good and bad bacteria in the body, you may want to take up to 50 billion CFUs daily.
Storage and expiration
It's important to read the label on your probiotic bottle to make sure the bacteria cultures won't expire before you finish the bottle. The tiny organisms won't do you any good if they're no longer living. Likewise, many strains need to be refrigerated, so carefully follow the instructions on the bottle for storage. If you're traveling, select a strain type that doesn't require refrigeration. These supplements should be kept out of sunlight and away from heat.
Probiotic supplements that are either USP-verified or NSF-certified have gone through a third-party process to ensure potency and purity.
Probiotics range in price from $0.20 to $0.85 per pill. Be aware that a pricier bottle doesn't necessarily buy you more strain types.
Q. Are there any side effects to taking probiotics?
A. Side effects are minimal when taking a probiotic supplement and usually occur when beginning a probiotic regimen. These mild side effects may include bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and acne breakouts. These symptoms are usually temporary.
Q. Should I take my probiotic pill with food?
A. Most probiotics should be taken on an empty stomach, preferably first thing in the morning. Do check the instructions on the label. In some cases, they should be taken with food or as advised by a physician.
Q. Is it safe to take probiotics while pregnant?
A. Generally, it is safe to do so, and some studies suggest taking probiotics while pregnant may even boost the immune system of your baby. However, it's important to consult with your doctor on this one.
Probiotics we recommend
Best of the best: Align Probiotic Supplement
Our take: These probiotics are doctor-recommended for reducing GERD and heartburn symptoms.
What we like: Popular for reducing stomach troubles, including IBS, when nothing else has worked. Contains a bacteria strain unique to the brand: B. infantis.
What we dislike: Pricey. Not all users experience positive changes in digestion.
Best bang for your buck: Zenwise Health Daily Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics and Probiotics
Our take: A value buy packed not only with probiotics but other digestive-friendly ingredients.
What we like: Contains prebiotics, which are food for probiotics, and enzymes to help digest food. Treats a host of tummy troubles like constipation, gas, and bloating.
What we dislike: Some users can't tolerate this formula.
Our take: A potent S. Boulardii probiotic supplement from a reputable brand.
What we like: Doesn't need to be refrigerated. Five billion CFUs per pill. A yeast-based probiotic that pairs well with antibiotics.
What we dislike: Perhaps not ideal for users with food sensitivities.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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