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 Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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