Whether you’re looking to skyrocket immune function, decrease disease risk or simply improve your overall health, probiotics can make a worthy addition to your daily routine. But take a short trip down the supplement aisle of your local health store, and it can get overwhelming trying to find the best probiotic to fit your specific needs.
There are several different factors to look for when shopping for probiotics, but one of the most important is the specific strains found within your supplement. Different types of probiotics are associated with unique health benefits, which can make it even more challenging to decide what is the best probiotic for you.
What Are Probiotics? What Is Their Role in the Body?
Nestled inside your gut are trillions of live microorganisms that make up the microbiome. Many of these bacterial cells are considered “good bacteria” and help support immune function, enhance nutrient absorption, and aid in the synthesis of key neurotransmitters and other compounds.
Probiotics are a type of organism that can help boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut. They are found in probiotic supplements and fermented foods, including tempeh, natto, miso and kombucha. Some of the potential benefits of probiotics include (1):
- Improved digestion
- Reduced cholesterol levels
- Increased immunity
- Cancer protection
- Enhanced regularity
- Better mental health
- Reduced allergy severity
So which probiotic is best for you and your specific needs? Let’s take a closer look at the top strains you should be looking for.
Top 6 Best Probiotic Strains + Their Benefits
1. Bacillus coagulans
This specific strain of bacteria consistently ranks as a contender for the best probiotic for constipation and healthy digestion. And according to one study out of Iran, it may also be the best probiotic for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, researchers showed that treating patients with IBS using Bacillus coagulans helped significantly improve diarrhea and reduce abdominal pain compared to a placebo. (2)
Plus, thanks to its immune-modulating properties, it can also decrease inflammation and minimize symptoms of certain autoimmune disorders. For example, one study published in the journal BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine showed that Bacillus coagulans was effective at reducing inflammation, relieving pain and improving the ability to perform regular daily activities in people with rheumatoid arthritis. (3)
2. Saccharomyces boulardii
There have been a multitude of recent studies indicating that the best probiotic supplement should definitely include this beneficial strain of bacteria. In addition to its digestion-boosting benefits, Saccharomyces boulardii has powerful antimicrobial and antitoxin effects, which can help block the growth of bacteria and parasites while also flushing out harmful toxins. (4)
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, in vitro studies show that Saccharomyces boulardii can also stimulate immune function, decrease markers of inflammation and strengthen the barrier of the digestive tract to aid in the prevention of conditions like leaky gut syndrome. (4)
3. Bacillus subtilis
Bacillus subtilis stands out from other strains of bacteria because it’s one of the few types that is able to grow and thrive in a variety of diverse environments, including in soil, on the roots of plants and in the gastrointestinal tracts of animals. (5) Animal models suggest that it may be in the running for the best probiotic for diarrhea, noting that it can improve both growth performance and digestive health. (6)
Some research also shows that it could have immune-boosting, antiviral effects as well. One animal study conducted by researchers in Ukraine, for instance, isolated a specific type of peptide from Bacillus subtilis and found that the protective effects were comparable to that of Tamiflu, a common medication used to treat and prevent the flu. (7)
4. Bacillus clausii
Bacillus clausii is a strain of bacteria with benefits that extend well beyond its effects on digestion and gut health. In fact, studies show that Bacillus clausii could also have potent antimicrobial properties to protect against harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi as well as immune-enhancing effects to fight off infection. (8)
Plus, it may also be a candidate for the best probiotic for kids with diarrhea, as studies show that it can reduce the duration and frequency of diarrhea in children with minimal risk of adverse symptoms of side effects. (9)
5. Lactobacillus plantarum
Lactobacillus plantarum has been associated with a number of impressive health benefits. In terms of digestive health, it’s been shown to improve symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain and bloating. (10) It can also help bump up immunity while simultaneously reducing inflammation in the digestive tract. (11)
What’s more, it may even come with some serious anti-aging benefits as well. A clinical trial published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology actually found that supplementing with Lactobacillus plantarum was able to reduce wrinkle depth, increase skin gloss and improve skin elasticity by nearly 22 percent after just 12 weeks. (12)
6. Lactobacillus gasseri
As one of the best probiotics for weight loss, there have been a slew of studies demonstrating just how powerful this strain of bacteria may be when it comes to your waistline. For instance, one study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that taking Lactobacillus gasseri daily led to significant reductions in body weight and body fat compared to a control group, with participants losing up to 8.5 percent body fat over a 12-week period. (13)
Another study out of Korea had similar findings, reporting that taking Lactobacillus gasseri for 12 weeks led to significant reductions in hip and waist circumference compared to a placebo. (14)
Best Probiotic Strains for Women
With so many different strains of probiotics out there, it’s no wonder that there are specific strains that may work better for you based on your specific age, gender and health goals.
Here are a few of the supplements that deserve a top spot as the best probiotic for women:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus: this specific strain of bacteria doubles as the best probiotic for vaginal health and the best probiotic for candida, with studies showing that it can prevent yeast infections and protect against candidiasis. (15, 16)
- Bifidobacterium bifidum: some studies suggest that this strain of bacteria may help decrease self-reported stress and relieve stress-related symptoms, such as diarrhea. (17)
- Lactobacillus plantarum: this probiotic has been shown to have anti-aging benefits, helping to preserve skin elasticity and protect against wrinkles. (12)
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: animal models suggest that this strain of probiotic can help increase iron bioavailability to reduce the risk of conditions like iron-deficiency anemia. (18)
- Lactobacillus gasseri: in addition to its ability to enhance weight loss, studies show that Lactobacillus gasseri may also help reduce menstrual pain, especially in women with endometriosis. (19)
Best Probiotic Strains for Men
So which strains earn a spot as the best probiotic for men? Here are a few of the best probiotics specifically targeted towards certain health issues for men:
- Lactobacillus fermentum: in vitro studies show that this strain of bacteria could help lower cholesterol levels to promote better heart health. (20)
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus: although more research is needed, some animal models and in vitro studies have found that this type of bacteria may help block the growth of certain types of cancer, including bladder and liver cancer. (21, 22)
- Lactobacillus sporogens: in addition to aiding in the prevention of urinary tract infections, Lactobacillus sporogens may also help reduce the recurrence of chronic prostatitis. (23)
- Lactobacillus gasseri: this powerful form of probiotic can help reduce belly fat to prevent abdominal obesity, one of the leading risk factors for conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (14, 24)
- Lactobacillus reuteri: some research in animals has found that this strain may help sustain healthy testosterone levels and testicular size in aging mice. (25)
Probiotic Uses in Ayurveda, TCM & Traditional Medicine
Probiotic foods are often used in many forms of traditional medicine as an effective way to improve gut flora and enhance digestive health.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, fermented foods are generally considered warming and are easier to digest than unfermented foods. Certain probiotic foods may also be associated with other health benefits in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well; tempeh, for example, is used to help tonify the qi and blood while sauerkraut promotes bile flow and benefits the liver.
Meanwhile, fermented foods are used to support healthy digestion on an Ayurvedic diet. Some foods, like soy products, are considered difficult to digest, but fermented varieties like tempeh, natto and miso are often permitted in moderation and are believed to help pacify the vata dosha.
Least Beneficial Probiotic Supplements
Adding a probiotic supplement into your routine can bring some big benefits when it comes to your health. Unfortunately, not all probiotics are created equal.
Check the ingredients label carefully and avoid supplements with extra ingredients, preservatives and fillers. Products should also have at least 10–20 billion CFUs and should be shelf-stable to maximize absorption in the gut.
Additionally, some food products may contain probiotics but are also pumped full of sugar and additives, which may actually do more harm than good when it comes to your health. For best results, skip the probiotic products like ice creams, sweeteners, gummies, granola bars and baking mixes and go for healthy whole foods instead, such as kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and kombucha.
Who Should Take Probiotic Supplements? RDA & Dosage Recommendations
Nearly everyone can benefit from probiotic supplements, but they can be especially beneficial for those who aren’t getting at least a few servings of fermented foods in their diet. Additionally, those with an autoimmune disease, digestive issues or other health problems may also want to consider investing in a high-quality probiotic supplement.
Probiotic dosage is measured in “colony forming units,” or CFUs. Ideally, you should aim for at least 5–10 billion CFUs per day for children and 10–20 billion CFUs each day for adults. However, the recommended dosage may vary based on individual health concerns, so discuss with your doctor for personalized guidance as needed. (26)
So when is the best time to take a probiotic? Most sources typically recommend taking your probiotic first thing in the morning, about 15–30 minutes before breakfast. This ensures that your probiotic supplement is able to reach your digestive tract quickly without getting stuck in the stomach behind your morning meal.
Where to Find & How to Use the Best Probiotic Strains
Probiotics are widely available at health stores and pharmacies as well as online retailers, making it easier than ever to bump up the concentration of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
In the search for the best probiotic on the market, there are several specific factors that you should keep in mind, including:
- Brand: Be sure to always buy from a reputable retailer with plenty of positive customer reviews and look for a list of the best probiotic brands to ensure you’re getting the highest quality possible.
- CFU count: Look for a probiotic with at least 10–20 billion CFU to maximize the potential health benefits.
- Strain diversity: Probiotic supplements should contain a good mix of several different probiotic strains, each of which confers a unique set of benefits to health.
- Live cultures: Ideally, the best probiotic supplement should be labeled “live and active cultures,” instead of “made with active cultures.” This is because some probiotics undergo heat treatment, which can kill off the beneficial strains of bacteria before they even reach your body.
- Prebiotics: Just as important to gut health as probiotics are prebiotics, which help provide fuel for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Select supplements with ingredients like flax seed, chia seed, pumpkin seeds and ginger to get in a good mix of prebiotics in addition to your supplement.
- Stability: Certain types of probiotics require refrigeration to preserve their potency and ensure survival. Shelf-stable probiotics are a better choice because they are more likely to survive the journey through your digestive tract intact.
How to Get More Probiotic Strains in Your Diet + Probiotic Recipes
In addition to probiotic supplements, you can also try adding more probiotic foods into your diet to help optimize your gut health. Fermented foods and foods with added probiotics are a great option to help get in your daily dose.
Some of the best probiotic foods include:
Keep in mind that these probiotic foods should be low in added sugar, preservatives and extra ingredients to really get the most bang for your buck. Even if you’re consuming the best probiotic drink or best probiotic yogurt, it may not contain the same health benefits if it’s highly processed and pumped full of additives.
Need some inspiration to help get you going? Here are a few simple probiotic-rich recipes to start experimenting with:
- Miso Soup with Mushrooms
- Teriyaki Tempeh and Broccoli
- Thai Curry Kelp Noodles
- Pineapple Kombucha
- Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese Casserole
Probiotics have a long history that dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who recommended the use of cheese and other fermented foods for their health-promoting properties. The fermentation of dairy foods is often considered one of the oldest food preservation techniques in history.
In 1907, Russian zoologist Élie Metchinkoff theorized that the gut microbiome could be modified by replacing the harmful bacteria in the digestive tract with beneficial strains instead. He also suggested that the aging process stemmed from the production of toxic substances by specific strains of bacteria in the gut. He believed that fermented foods like sour milk could help lower the pH of the intestinal tract and block the growth of bacteria.
Years after Mechinkoff’s experiments, scientists began conducting tests which involved feeding strains of bacteria to humans and rats and observing changes in the fecal microbiota to measure the changes of the intestinal flora. Researchers soon found that L. acidophilus was especially beneficial when implanted in the human digestive tract and could confer a multitude of health benefits, including relief from constipation.
In 1989, scientist Roy Fuller set the definition of probiotics that is still widely used today, which is “live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.”
Today, the importance of gut health is widely recognized as new research continues to emerge, emphasizing just how essential the gut microbiome may be to health.
Although probiotics are associated with a number of powerful health benefits, not all supplements are created equal. The best probiotic supplements should come from high-quality brands and should contain a good mix of different beneficial strains. Furthermore, steer clear of probiotic products that are packed with added sugar or extra ingredients, which can negate many of the health-promoting properties.
Some of the most common probiotics side effects include digestive issues like increased gas or bloating. To minimize the risk of potential side effects, start with a low dose and gradually work your way up to assess your tolerance. Most adverse side effects typically subside within a few weeks of starting probiotic supplementation.
If you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking any medications, you may want to consider consulting with your doctor before starting supplementation.
- Probiotics can help boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can improve several aspects of health ranging from improved immunity to increased nutrient absorption.
- There are many different strains of probiotics, each of which boasts a unique set of benefits for health.
- The best probiotic for men and the best probiotic for women can differ based on the specific strains they contain; some strains can improve skin health, reduce stress levels and protect against candida while others can increase testosterone production, prevent prostatitis and prevent belly fat accumulation.
- Look for a shelf-stable supplement that contains live cultures, prebiotics and a variety of different strains and avoid products with fillers, preservatives and added sugar.
- You can also include several types of fermented foods as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle to help optimize overall gut health.
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