Probiotics are some of the most popular health supplements on the market today. Experts predict the human microbiome industry will be worth nearly $3 billion by 2028, at compound annual growth rate of more than 22%. People may take probiotics for all sorts of reasons, which makes the process of picking one that much more important.
It can be difficult to choose any supplement, but probiotics can pose special challenges because they are often designed to serve different purposes. There are single or multi-strain, refrigerated or shelf, and even liquid or capsule types to pick from. Additionally, many probiotics may be best tailored to men, women, weight loss, or even specific conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
As always, it’s our recommendation to run through your possible needs with a healthcare professional; but we will delve into some general recommendations to help you get started.
What to look for in probiotic supplements
To start, it’s important to find products that contain at least 1 billion colony-forming units (CFU). This means that there will be 1 billion bacterial cells available per pill or dose of the product. Most seen in stores will consist of 1-10 billion CFU. The product should also contain Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii bacteria. Just because you see these words, however, doesn’t exactly mean the supplement is good to go.
Doing a bit of extended research on the specific strains of these bacteria can help guide your decision. If you choose not to, you risk not receiving much of any benefit at all. For example, Lactobacillus bulgaricus is a healthy bacteria that is very popular in yogurt, but often destroyed by stomach acid before it can have any useful effect on the gut.
Many healthcare professionals also recommend sticking to name brands. This is because you’re far more likely to find studies and information about the product compared to store brands. Additionally, in your research on a product, it’s important to consider what you are buying the supplement for. Look into products that have been studied for what you want it to help.
“Ideally, look for a product that’s been tested for whatever you’re looking to address. It might say it helps with IBS, but you wouldn’t take that same product if you were taking antibiotics. You would want a product that helps with immunity. That’s where a lot of people get confused,” says Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, an intestinal microbe specialist with Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.
Don’t be afraid to try other brands
Arguably most important to note is that the same probiotic brand could work really well for one person, but not help another person at all. There is no one-size-fits-all, so don’t be afraid to try one brand and then test out others after a while. If you don’t feel the difference that you were hoping to feel after ~4 weeks, it likely means that it’s not working much for you. In the same voice, be patient and talk to a professional before making more changes.
Finding a probiotic can be tough. The industry is saturated with options right now and will continue to be booming with more as wellness companies keep realizing that gut health is a popular area right now (for good reason).
The good news is that many you find in the store are safe, it’s just a matter of making sure you’re keeping your specific needs in mind during your search and that you do a little research online and with a professional on how to look for the safest and most effective type.