How to Choose a Probiotic

Probiotic pills and supplements are available in nearly every health-food store and organic grocery store. Probiotics contain live bacteria, which allegedly improve the health of your gut and digestive tract.[1] While you can get probiotics from certain foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir, taking pills or supplements as well can help to improve your gut health to a more significant degree. There are a huge number of probiotics available over the counter, which can make choosing a pill or supplement difficult. You can find a beneficial and healthy probiotic by doing a little research beforehand.


EditFinding an Effective and Tested Probiotic

  1. Find a probiotic supplementing bacteria, which means that they don’t all treat the same gut or body condition. Before purchasing a probiotic, read the probiotic pill or supplement box to confirm that it contains bacteria which target the issues you want it to. For example, different probiotics will treat health issues as varied as:[2]
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    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
    • Upper respiratory problems.
    • General gut health.
    • Frequent vaginosis.
    • Refer to an online ‘cheat sheet’ describing the effects of various probiotic bacteria here: For example, bacteria strains which increase overall illness immunity may be useless when dealing with abdominal pain.
  2. Opt for a probiotic with 30-40 strains of bacteria. If you’re looking for an effective general-use probiotic supplement, choose one with many strains. Since different bacterial strains will treat different gut and health conditions, increasing the number of strains will maximize the health benefits that the probiotic can deliver.[3]
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    • The most helpful probiotic labels will provide the genus, species, and strain of all bacteria included. For example, 1 specific strain of bacteria will read: “Lactobacillus reuteri ATCC55730.”
  3. Read the packaging to make sure that the product was tested. Probiotics are unregulated and do not undergo testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any medical organization. This means that many probiotics are untested, and offer no guarantee that the product can meet the claims made on its packaging or advertisements. You can avoid buying a potentially useless product by confirming that the supplements or pills were tested.[4]
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    • If you have extra time to invest in researching probiotics, you could look at the probiotic company’s website. Read the “About Us” page (or a similar page) to find out if the probiotic has been tested.
    • Since they are not regulated, some products labeled as probiotics may not contain as much bacteria as they claim to.
  4. Confirm that the studies were ethically performed. The most reliable probiotics are those that have been double-blind tested. Probiotic testing may be subject to bias if it’s not performed double-blind tests.[5] This information should be clearly printed on the packaging.
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    • Also look to see if the packaging confirms that the probiotic manufacturer wasn’t able to inform the test results. This will indicate that the tests were ethically performed and that the manufacturer didn’t meddle with the scientific results.
  5. Select a probiotic supplement with at least 5 billion CFU. The number of bacteria in probiotic supplements can vary widely, from a couple million to several billion. As a general rule of thumb, the more living bacteria that have been packed into a probiotic, the more effective the supplement will be.[6]
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    • When reading bottles of probiotic supplements, you’ll notice that many include the acronym “CFU.” This stands for “colony forming unit,” and refers to the approximate number of live bacteria within a pill or supplement.

EditEvaluating a Probiotic through Use

  1. Pay attention to your body’s digestion. The major effect of nearly all probiotics is to improve your gut and digestive health (in addition to whatever other benefits the bacteria provide). If you’ve been using a certain probiotic supplement for a couple of weeks and don’t notice an improvement in your digestive health, it’s time to try a new probiotic.[7] Signs of an ineffective probiotic include:
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    • Stomach cramps.
    • Intestinal pain.
    • Constipation or diarrhea.
  2. Revise your probiotic supplement as needed. Keep in mind that, since most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, they aren’t guaranteed to produce the results they advertise.[8] Fortunately, another probiotic may fix your health concern.
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    • If the first probiotic you tried isn’t helping, switch to another type. Unlike medication, you can change your probiotic supplement without experiencing major side-effects. The only side-effect you’re somewhat likely to experience as a result of switching is mildly upset stomach.
  3. Choose studied strains of probiotic to help with frequent health concerns. Most medical studies on probiotics have been performed on strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Probiotics containing these strains are most likely to match the claims made on the label.[9] Choose well-known strains of these bacteria to help with common health ailments. These include:[10]
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    • Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which helps with lactose intolerance and various resultant digestive problems.
    • Lactobacillus reuteri LR-1 or LR-2, which improves dental hygiene and prevents tooth plaque from forming.
    • Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 or MIMBb75, which decreases bloating and discomfort from IBS.
  4. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your digestion. If you have frequent moderate to severe abdominal pain, or chronic constipation or diarrhea, the problem may be more severe than a probiotic can handle. Talk to your physician and explain your condition to them. Also ask your doctor if they recommend any specific probiotics or know of any to avoid.[11]
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    • You may be suffering from an undiagnosed case of IBS, or you may be lactose intolerant or have Celiac’s disease without knowing it.


  • It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about using probiotics before purchasing and starting to take one, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Don’t replace scientifically proven treatments with probiotics. A lot of research still has to be done on probiotics to determine their effectiveness.
  • Closely follow the storage instructions printed on the probiotic supplement bottle. All probiotics need to be kept away from heat, and many need to be refrigerated.[12]

EditSources and Citations

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