5 Best Probiotic Supplements for Better Gut Health
The best probiotics for a healthy digestive system, immune system, and overall health. Plus, how to choose the right supplement for you.
When it comes to gut health, there's a lot of information out there to...digest. It's hard to discuss the secrets to a healthy microbiome without mentioning probiotic supplements. But with so many options on the market, and words like "Bifidobacterium flying around," how do you know which probiotic is right for you?
We're breaking down the best probiotic supplements available and what to look for in a high-quality probiotic, including the different strains, number of CFUs, and the benefits that these dietary supplements may have on your overall health.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are good-for-you living organisms and beneficial bacteria that thrive in your digestive system. Contrary to popular belief, not all bacteria are bad for us. In fact, probiotic strains contribute to digestive health, which in turn supports your immune system and overall health.
Our bodies need probiotics to maintain the right balance between good and bad bacteria within the gut. This balance keeps our digestive systems operating normally. In particular, probiotics stimulate the nerves responsible for moving food through the digestive system. This helps alleviate certain health issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, and even eczema and allergies.
Some probiotic strains help your gut absorb medications more effectively and turn elements of the food you eat into vitamins that your body needs to thrive. In this way, a well-fed and active gut microbiome is key to a healthy immune system and metabolism.
So how do the tiny organisms do all this work? Again, it's all about balance. If bad bacteria enter your body and threaten to make you sick, the probiotics you eat or consume in a supplement counteract these bad actors to keep you healthy. Likewise, beneficial gut bacteria fight inflammation, which is a factor in many leading chronic diseases in the US, including diabetes and heart disease.
So how can you support your microbiome with plenty of probiotics? First, you can eat foods that naturally contain probiotics. These natural sources include fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and tempeh.
However, if you want to maximize the good bacteria in your gut and reap the health benefits of probiotics without drowning in miso soup, then a probiotic supplement might be right for you. The key is to find the best probiotic for your needs.
Potential Benefits of Probiotic Supplements
Why should you add a probiotic supplement to your daily routine? For starters, if you don't enjoy eating a lot of fermented foods, taking a daily supplement of live bacteria can ensure that you enjoy the health benefits of probiotics without majorly altering your diet.
By taking a daily probiotic product, you may reduce the risk of serious and uncomfortable digestive concerns. And some studies, including a 6-week study on 70 petrochemical workers, suggest a link between regular probiotic supplementation and a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.
Then, there are the weight-loss benefits of probiotics. Probiotics can help increase satiety by increasing fullness hormones, leading you to eat less and experience fewer cravings. Some types of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus gasseri, are linked to a reduction in belly fat and BMI in human studies.
Now that you know a little more about the wellness advantages a probiotic supplement has to offer, take a look at these top five highly-recommended probiotic supplements.
5 Best Probiotic Supplements
Each product featured here has been independently selected. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
We like that the Physician's Choice product is shelf-stable and includes an organic probiotic blend in addition to 60 billion CFUs and 10 probiotic strains. The prebiotics contains gut-healthy fiber that works in tandem with the microbes to foster a healthy microbiome.
Shelf-stability is another important benefit as many of the best probiotics require refrigeration. This makes Physician's Choice great for frequent travelers or anyone who prefers to keep their supplements somewhere other than the kitchen.
In addition, Physician's Choice makes vegan capsules that are soy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, and preservative-free. Their supplements are also third-party lab-tested and made in the USA.
Unique features: Organic prebiotic blend, shelf-stable, third-party lab tested, vegan
Strength: 60 billion CFU and 10 probiotic strains
Price: $21.74 for 30 capsules
Like Physician's Choice, Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics for Women are also shelf-stable and contain an organic prebiotic fiber blend. We like that this product boasts a whopping 16 probiotic strains, including lactobacillus rhamnosus.
This product is specifically made for women to support immune and vaginal health, and provide relief from gastrointestinal issues like constipation, bloating, and IBS. Plus, their once-daily capsules are free of dairy, gluten, and soy. The blend was formulated by microbiome expert Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and Fellow at the American College of Nutrition.
Unique features: Organic prebiotic fiber blend; specially formulated for women's health, shelf-stable, gluten-, soy- and dairy-free
Strength: 50 billion CFU and 16 probiotic strains
Price: $27.94 for 30 capsules
Culturelle Daily Probiotics are great for the budget-conscious or new probiotic user. This more affordable option offers 10 billion CFUs of a single strain: Lactobacillus rhamnosus. L. rhamnousus is the most-studied probiotic strain and is clinically proven to aid digestion. This lower-dose probiotic supplement is great for kids and can help settle short-term digestive issues, especially related to travel.
If you're concerned about potential side effects like gas and bloating, this Culturelle product is an excellent place to start.
Unique features: Free of gluten, milk, soy, wheat, and preservatives
Strength: 10 billion CFUs and 1 probiotic strain (Lactobacillus rhamnosus)
Price: $16.88 for 30 capsules
The time-release feature in NewRhythm Probiotics ensures that the vegetarian capsules make it all the way to your digestive tract before releasing the live microorganisms. In addition, this shelf-stable product is made in the USA in a GMP-Certified facility and tested by third-party labs for quality and effectiveness.
While the price seems like an absolute steal compared to the other probiotics in our list, it's important to note that one dose is two capsules. Nevertheless, NewRhythm probiotics are a fantastic affordable option that still packs a serious punch with 50 billion CFUs and 20 probiotic strains.
Unique features: Shelf-stable; non-GMO; third-party lab-tested and made in the USA; free of gluten, sugar, soy, preservatives, and peanuts; 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee within 30 days
Strength: 50 billion CFUs and 20 probiotic strains
Price: $14.44 for 60 capsules
The Nutrition Essentials probiotic offers the most CFUs per dose, at a staggering 900 billion. But what really sets this brand apart is the company's commitment to satisfaction. They offer a full money-back guarantee if you don't see results. Nutrition Essentials also guarantees that their tablets contain potent probiotic strains until expiration. While it can be hard to know what to believe in probiotic product labels, guarantees like this help give some peace of mind.
Unique features: Made in the USA; gluten-, dairy-, and preservative-free; strains are guaranteed potent until the expiration date
Strength: 900 billion CFUs and 1 strain (lactobacillus acidophilus)
Price: $17.99 for 60 tablets
What to Look for In a Probiotic Supplement
How can you know that you're selecting the best probiotic for you? There are a few important things to look for when choosing a supplement.
First, the best products are third-party lab tested. This means that an independent scientific lab has assessed the product for effectiveness and to ensure that it meets claims outlined on its packaging, including the number of CFUs and potency.
Secondly, opt for a supplement that contains multiple bacterial strains. Brands offer everything from one to dozens of probiotic strains, and studies suggest that multi-strain supplements offer more health benefits than single-strain.
Each organism in a probiotic supplement is called a colony-forming unit, or CFU. First of all, ensure that your product lists a specific CFU count, which can range from 1 to over 900 billion per dose. Supplement manufacturers are only required by the FDA to list the total weight of bacteria in their products. However, this weight can include living and dead bacteria. Since you can only reap benefits from live microorganisms, CFU count is the best measure of a supplement's potency.
In addition, bacteria die off over time. So after checking the CFU count, ensure that the product lists CFUs at expiration, not at the time of manufacture.
That being said, more CFUs does not always equal better results. Because everyone's microbiome is different, there's no rule for selecting the right number of CFUs for you. The best probiotic supplements will be somewhere around 50 billion, and remember that more is not always better, but is usually more expensive.
At the end of the day, there's a lot of information to dig through to choose the best probiotic supplement for your lifestyle. But with a better understanding of the jargon and what to look for on packaging, you can be a better-informed consumer and find the right product to help your microbiome thrive.
Lizzy Briskin is the founder of Earthen Food Co. She is a chef, food writer, and recipe developer who helps people eat more mindfully for themselves and the environment, without overthinking it.
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By Julia Conley
A new campaign unveiled this weekend by the nonprofit organization Fossil Free Media aims to expand on the goals of the fossil fuel divestment movement, cutting into oil and gas companies' profit margins through their public relations and ad campaigns.
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By Jason Farley
COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives, and it is poised to completely disrupt the holiday season. As people make holiday plans and think about ways to reduce the risks to their loved ones, a strategy is essential.
Are masks really necessary at family gatherings?<p>If you're gathering with friends and family who don't live in your home, yes. Just because you're with people you know doesn't mean you're safe from the coronavirus. Infection rates are <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases-50-states" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">higher now than they have ever been</a> in the U.S., and <a href="https://youtu.be/ehdgceGzQxs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">small gatherings have been a source</a> of viral spread. All it takes is one infected person who doesn't know they have the coronavirus to infect others.</p><p>Remember, people can be <a href="https://medical.mit.edu/covid-19-updates/2020/07/how-long-symptom-onset-person-contagious" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">contagious two to three days</a> before symptoms show – that's one thing that makes this virus so hard to stop. And it's why, even if you feel fine, you should wear a mask.</p><p>The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that when both people are wearing masks, the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html" target="_blank">likelihood of infection is low</a>.</p>
Who am I protecting when I wear a mask?<p>In a word: everyone. The coronavirus <a href="https://theconversation.com/aerosols-are-a-bigger-coronavirus-threat-than-who-guidelines-suggest-heres-what-you-need-to-know-142233" target="_blank">spreads through respiratory droplets</a> that you send out into the air when you talk, sing or even just breathe. The tiniest of these droplets can float on air currents for long periods.</p><p>Face masks stop many of those droplets, reducing the amount of virus in the air. That lowers your chances of getting infected, and it also lowers the chances that you'll infect someone else.</p><p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html" target="_blank">Studies of people who had prolonged exposure</a> to others with COVID-19 have demonstrated how masks can reduce the chance of the virus spreading. In general, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">well-fitted cloth masks</a> made up of multiple layers can stop most large droplets and at least half of the tiny ones. Plastic <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.05.20207241" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">face shields</a> alone are far less effective. <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/08/13/cdc-mask-guidance-masks-valves/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Face masks with valves or vents</a> might be good for construction work, but they don't stop the wearer from breathing out virus into the air.</p>
Can I reuse a mask and when should I replace it?<p>Reusable masks should be kept clean and dry. We're moving into cold and flu season, and noses get drippy. A rule of thumb: Anytime a mask is wet to the point that you can discern the wetness, it's time for a new one if it's disposable, or it's time to clean your reusable mask.</p><p>Wetness allows viruses to more easily move through paper or fabric because it allows the threads to move and may reduce the electrostatic charge in the masks that add extra protection with some fabrics.</p><p>In general, you can use a mask that stays clean and dry for about a week before you need to wash or discard it.</p>
How should I clean a cloth mask?<p>Washing your mask is like washing your clothes. You know when it is time.</p><p>In general, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html" target="_blank">cleaning your mask weekly</a> should be sufficient. If odors develop before then, it's a good idea to wash it sooner. Odor generally means bacterial buildup.</p><p>Cleaning your mask by hand with soap and water is your best option. Using a general detergent on a gentle cycle in the washing machine is also fine, but that may increase the risk of damage, depending on the quality of the material. COVID-19 is not a hardy virus. Any soap or detergent should work fine. There's no need for special chemicals, bleach or harsh soaps.</p><p>Be careful to remove any inserts before washing. Inserted filters are generally not washable.</p><p>Air drying masks works best. Remember, masks should be completely dry before use. So be sure to have a replacement mask handy while the one you just washed dries.</p><p>Sunlight is always a great source of heat to dry your mask. Also, sunlight has ultraviolet radiation, which has been shown to <a href="http://doi.org/10.1111/php.13293" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eliminate coronavirus</a> and is also known to have antibacterial properties.</p>
Can I wear the mask below my nose?<p>Wearing your mask below your nose is, frankly, ridiculous.</p><p>Think about it. If you are breathing through your nose and only covering your mouth, you are effectively eliminating the point of the mask. Properly wearing a mask requires covering both your nose and mouth at all times.</p><p>Studies show that wearing a proper cloth mask or surgical mask while exercising <a href="http://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.202008-990CME" target="_blank">doesn't affect the flow of oxygen</a> or carbon dioxide in any detectable way. So, unless you have serious heart and lung problems, that isn't an excuse.</p>
How do I safely remove my mask if I’m going to eat or drink?<p>When you <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html" target="_blank">take your mask off</a>, remove it carefully by the straps without touching anything else and put it somewhere safe, like wrapped in paper in a purse, bag or pocket. Then wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. When you put it back on, wash your hands again.</p>
So, how can I have a safe holiday gathering?<p>The safest way to celebrate this year is to do so with members only within your household. The <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CDC is now stressing that point</a>, as well. If you do celebrate with friends and relatives from outside your household, you need an action plan to reduce the risk of exposure.</p><p>Here are five recommendations:</p><ul><li>Limit the number of people – fewer people means fewer opportunities for exposure, and you'll have more room to spread out.</li><li>Require masks when not eating or drinking.</li><li>Use physical distancing when eating. Try to seat people <a href="https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3223" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 6 feet apart</a>. Eat outside if you can.</li><li>Consider being tested for COVID-19 before traveling or gathering. It's not a guarantee, but it can help flag illnesses. Remember to self-isolate between the test and the event.</li><li>Be prepared to self-isolate for 14 days after traveling or participating in any event that involves people from outside your home.</li></ul><p>[<em>Research into coronavirus and other news from science</em> <a href="https://theconversation.com/us/newsletters/science-editors-picks-71/?utm_source=TCUS&utm_medium=inline-link&utm_campaign=newsletter-text&utm_content=science-corona-research" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Subscribe to The Conversation's new science newsletter</a>.]</p><p><em>The map has been updated with New Hampshire announcing a mask mandate effective Nov. 20.</em></p><p><em>Jason Farley is a professor, infectious disease-trained epidemiologist and nurse practitioner at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.<br></em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, ANP-BC, FAAN receives funding from the National Institutes of Health on the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for COVID-19 and Becton Dickinson for studies on SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-face-masks-belong-at-your-thanksgiving-gathering-7-things-you-need-to-know-about-wearing-them-150130" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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