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How to Choose the Best Probiotics for Gut Health

close up shot of probiotic pills

Table of Contents

The digestive system dramatically impacts your overall health. A healthy gut almost always equates to better immune health, mental health, and even heart health.

Because digestive health has been linked to additional health benefits, everyone wants to know how best to boost their gut microbiome. 

A balanced diet, daily exercise, and stress management are good places to start. But incorporating one of the best probiotic supplements can add an essential boost to your wellness regimen.

Probiotics 101

What are Probiotics?

The digestive tract contains over 100 trillion microorganisms. The gut microbiome is sometimes referred to as the “forgotten organ” due to its vast number of microorganisms.

Gut bacteria make up a significant amount of those microbes. Probiotics are considered good bacteria (commensal bacteria), which tend to keep bad bacteria at bay. 

When harmful bacteria flourishes, side effects include:

  • Autoimmune issues
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Eczema
  • Food intolerances
  • Many, many more… 

Do probiotics help with leaky gut? 

Probiotics are believed to help heal leaky gut, as they may help reinforce the lining of the digestive tract.

Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes more permeable due to inflammation. Things that could otherwise not pass into or out of the digestive system can then move elsewhere, causing systemic health issues. 

Crohn’s and Celiac disease are closely associated with leaky gut. 

Experiencing these symptoms could indicate that your gut bacteria is not properly balanced. Including a daily probiotic may be one step toward healing your gut.

Probiotic Foods

Probiotics can be found naturally in certain fermented foods such as:

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Probiotic yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh

Probiotic foods can aid the digestive tract, immune function, and weight loss.

Potential additional probiotic benefits include:

Do Probiotic Strains Matter?

Bacterial strains do matter when choosing a probiotic supplement — not all probiotics are multipurpose. Ideally, you want a diversity of strains to address your specific condition. Different strains address different symptoms. 

The 2 primary genera of probiotic bacteria (the most studied) are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. Both assist digestive enzymes in breaking down food and nutrient absorption; however, both have unique health benefits.

Bifidobacteria live in the large intestine, making up 3-6% of gut bacteria. They produce short-chain fatty acids, which help digest dietary fibers, and support:

The most common species of Bifidobacteria are:

  • Bifidobacterium lactis (B. lactis)
  • Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum)

Lactobacillus live in the small intestine, making up .01% of gut bacteria. They produce lactase, which helps metabolize milk sugars, and promote:

  • Gut barrier function
  • Bowel regularity
  • Restful sleep

The most common species of Lactobacillus are:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus)
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus (L. rhamnosus)
  • Lactobacillus plantarum (L. plantarum)

Saccharomyces are also common in the dietary supplement world; however, they are yeasts rather than bacteria. Saccharomyces boulardii, in particular, facilitate healthy yeast growth and are often recommended after a round of antibiotics.

Probiotics fall into 2 categories — single-strain and multi-strain. Multi-strains may have a better chance of alleviating a larger range of symptoms. However, a 2021 review found that multi-strain probiotics were not necessarily more effective than single-strain.

What are CFUs?

CFU stands for colony-forming units. CFUs denote the number of live bacteria per dose. 

It’s recommended that a probiotic supplement contains at least 106 or 1 million CFUs per gram. Translation: CFUs in the billions are better. 

That may sound like a lot; however, enough live probiotics must survive stomach acid to work in the gut.

Also, the higher the CFU count, the more diverse the strains.

What to Look For

To find the ideal probiotic for your needs, look for the following on your labels:

  • Check for genus, species, and strain. Often, only the first 2 are given. Some probiotic supplements don’t include information on the strain, which makes it harder to get one to address your needs.
  • Purchase high-quality products: Probiotics are not the best place to save by getting a budget brand. Buy from a reputable brand that has been third-party tested.
  • Keep an eye on the expiration date: Probiotics may remain shelf-stable for up to 2 years after their manufacture date. If yours have passed that point, buy a new bottle and toss the old one out.

What to Avoid

  • Steer clear of additives and fillers. The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Fillers such as cellulose, silica, cornstarch, and inulin also diminish the value of the probiotic.
  • Be on the lookout for flavors, dyes, and sweeteners (common to gummy probiotics). These are unnecessary.
  • Be wary of big, unrealistic claims. While probiotics can help gut health, they will not necessarily alleviate or cure everything (or any specific condition).

Our Favorite Probiotic Supplements

There’s a sea of probiotic products out there. We collected data on our top 10 picks, so you don’t have to drown in all of that info!

As mentioned, different probiotics target different issues. These may promote a healthy gut, but some are geared towards immune health, while others are optimized for mood and energy. All probiotics listed have been vetted to ensure they:

  • Contain few to no additives/fillers
  • Are non-GMO
  • Are sustainably manufactured

What is the best probiotic for bacteria in the gut? The best probiotic will depend on the gut issues you’re experiencing. Your best bet is to research which bacterial strains will target your specific gut problems and consult a healthcare professional who can further assist you.

1. Biocidin Botanicals, G.I. Detox (via Sano Health Club’s Fullscript portal)

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: NA
  • CFU count: NA
  • Cost: $32.47

Why We Love it: This first product actually isn’t a probiotic! G.I. Detox cleanses the gut by removing microbials, biofilm components, and mold metabolites. It establishes a clean slate so a probiotic supplement can better balance the microbiome. 

2. Garden of Life, Dr. Formulated Probiotics Once Daily Women’s

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: 16
  • CFU count: 50 billion
  • Cost: $34.39

Why We Love It:  This women’s health probiotic supports digestive, immune, and vaginal health. It doesn’t require refrigeration, so it’s great for on-the-go. 

It contains L. reuteri, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and L. fermentum, known for improving immune health. It’s also considered a best-seller.

3. NOW Probiotic-10

  • Serving size: 1 capsule once or twice daily
  • Strains: 10
  • CFU count: 25 billion
  • Cost: $19.99

Why We Love It: This product is allergen-friendly, dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan. NOW Probiotic-10 includes L. acidophilus, which is helpful for those with chronic diarrhea. 

NOW is certified by Underwriters Laboratory, a reputable third-party testing organization.

4. Align Probiotic, Extra Strength

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: Single-strain
  • CFU count: 5 billion
  • Cost: $29.99

Why We Love It: This probiotic is one of our go-to’s for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Align is the only brand to use the specific strain Bifidobacterium 35642. For some IBS patients, it may reduce inflammatory responses and prevent tissue damage. It’s also the winner of the Gold Edison Award for health innovation.

Disclaimer: Probiotics, including Align, cannot cure IBS. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA and are not meant to prevent, treat, or cure any disease.

5. RenewLife, Ultimate Flora Kids Probiotic

  • Serving size: 2 gummies daily
  • Strains: Single-strain
  • CFU count: 2 billion
  • Cost: $14.99

Why We Love It: This product is for children 3 years of age and older. B. coagulans is the active ingredient shown to help abdominal discomfort in children. These fruit-flavored gummies should have kids excited to participate in their gut health.

6. Culturelle Probiotics, Health and Wellness

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: 1
  • CFU count: 15 billion
  • Cost: $21.99

Why We Love It:  With 70% of our immune system located in the gut microbiome, this probiotic is a fantastic health supplement. It contains one of the most widely used and studied probiotic strains, L. rhamnosus G.G. 

Culturelle is certified by NSF.

7. Klaire Labs, Ther-biotic Metabolic Formula

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: 7
  • CFU count: 25 billion
  • Cost: $54.99

Why We Love It: This product includes L. acidophilus, known for fighting gas and bloating. Ther-biotic also emphasizes energy and weight loss. It contains 4 L. bacillus strains associated with weight management. It’s also hypoallergenic and gluten-free.

8. Nature M.D., RevBiotics Supports Energy, Mood, and Digestive Health

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: 3
  • CFU count: 2.5 billion
  • Cost: $135.00

Why We Love It:  This product is geared towards elevating energy and mood. It contains L. plantarum DR7, which aids in reducing stress and anxiety.

9. HUM, Gut Instinct

  • Serving size: 1 capsule daily
  • Strains: 10
  • CFU count: 25 billion
  • Cost: $26.00

Why We Love It:  This product is triple-tested for purity and is marketed for skin health. HUM includes L. plantarum, which may keep skin hydrated and protect against free radical damage. It also includes B. breve for maintaining skin elasticity. 

10. Garden of Life, Dr. Formulated Probiotics Mood+

  • Serving size: 2 capsules daily
  • Strains: 16
  • CFU count: 50 billion
  • Cost: $38.39

Why We Love It:  This vegetarian probiotic includes clinically studied active ingredients L. Helveticus R0052 and B. Longum R0175 to promote emotional well-being. 

It also includes organic Alaskan blueberries, with higher amounts of antioxidants (to protect against free radical damage) than standard blueberries.

Who Needs Probiotics?

Technically, no one needs probiotics. However, this dietary supplement may be a valuable addition to a healthy diet for people with dysbiotic gut bacteria.

Storing Probiotics

Because probiotics are live microorganisms, storage is pertinent to survival. Probiotics are either shelf-stable or require refrigeration. Follow the instructions on the package for specific storage instructions.

Considering taking a probiotic that’s hogging shelf space in your cabinet? Most probiotics are good up to 2 years after the manufacture date. Beyond that period, the probiotic will lose potency and should be discarded.

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

Probiotics are bacteria that support your immune system. Prebiotics are insoluble fiber from food that feed probiotics. Though such fibers are not digestible (they aren’t broken down naturally in the gut), they provide excellent sources of nutrition for beneficial bacteria.

An unhealthy diet provides fewer prebiotics to nourish gut bacteria. When our probiotic bacteria lose their energy source, harmful bacteria colonize more easily.

Foods with plenty of prebiotic fiber include the following:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Berries
  • Chicory root
  • Flaxseed
  • Oats
  • Onions

Let Us Help

When it comes to probiotics, there’s quite a bit to consider. The good news is you don’t have to simply “go with your gut.” Sano Health is here to help!

If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing at Sano Health, follow us on Instagram. Better yet, contact us to book an Intro Call with a member of our Care Team to learn more about our practice.


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