Medically reviewed by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Curious about the health benefits of probiotics and what different probiotic strains do? Want to know how to identify high-quality probiotics, including probiotics for your immune system as well as the best vaginal probiotics?*
Thanks to Fortify Probiotics for sponsoring this blog post. All opinions are my own, as always!
Most likely, you’ve heard at least a little bit about probiotics and how they can be beneficial for your health. But how so? And what exactly are probiotics, and what kind should you choose?
Read on to find out all the info you ever wanted to know about the beneficial bacteria! Find out how to choose the best over-the-counter probiotic, the best daily probiotic, and more.
What are Probiotics, in a Nutshell?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I get asked a lot about probiotics. They’re one of the most-consumed dietary supplements out there, with 4 million U.S. adults and 300,000 children using probiotics or prebiotics within the last 30 days, per the National Health Interview Survey.
Did you know probiotics are alive? Yup, they’re living microorganisms, aka beneficial bacteria, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Almost countless types of probiotics exist, and specific strains can have different impacts on your body and your health. In fact, probiotics may help everything from your gut health to your immune system to women’s health (ahem, vaginal health).* How cool is that?
During this current challenging time in quarantine, I’ve embraced having a routine. Every morning, I eat a balanced breakfast and take a probiotic. I’m doing everything I can to keep myself healthy while staying at home 24/7 (except for my daily sanity walks with my fiancé!).*
And so in addition to eating a healthy breakfast, getting regular exercise, and making sure I get enough shut-eye each night, I take a probiotic supplement daily.
Probiotics contain CFUs, or colony-forming units. Say what? These measure the number of viable cells or bacteria in a product, according to the NIH. When you see a “30 billion” or “50 billion” on a probiotic supplement’s label, that’s referring to the CFUs contained within a serving of probiotics.
Here’s something important you need to know about CFUs: Depending on the brand you choose, the number of CFUs listed on the bottle may be essentially meaningless—or not. Current regulations surrounding probiotic labeling only require a manufacturer to list the cellular mass of microorganisms on its label.
However, these cells can be living or dead, meaning manufacturers aren’t required to guarantee potency through expiration, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Obviously, dead microorganisms aren’t going to benefit you, as you must consume probiotics that are alive to see potential benefit!
That said, you may be able to find information on either a product’s label or a brand’s website regarding CFU labeling. Aim to look for a product labeled with the number of CFUs that will be available at a product’s expiration date, versus the time of manufacturing.
One reason I trust and recommend Fortify Probiotics to my clients is the products are guaranteed to deliver the amount of CFUs listed on the label through the date of expiration.
As well, these probiotics don’t need to be refrigerated to maintain their CFU content, which can be very beneficial when you’re storing the probiotics in your medicine cabinet or nightstand—or for when things are back to normal, when you’re traveling!
How Can You Get Probiotics?
Now that you’ve learned a bit about what probiotics are, you might be wondering how you can get probiotics into your body. Before we talk more about supplements, let’s chat briefly about food sources of probiotics. Certain foods such as kefir, yogurt containing live and active cultures, and unpasteurized sauerkraut contain probiotics.
These foods are wonderful to incorporate into a balanced diet, and I often eat these foods. However, probiotics are one area in which I don’t necessarily take a food-first mentality.
This is because many people who have particular health concerns may benefit from particular strains of probiotics, and it’s difficult to regularly consume foods that contain those particular strains and benefits. For instance, I take a daily women’s health probiotic to help support vaginal health in addition to getting immune and digestive health benefits.*
So you should know that if you’re looking to support a particular area of your health—such as immune health, digestive health, women’s health, men’s health, or something else—you may want to look into taking a daily probiotic that can help with those areas of your health.*
What are Genus, Species, and Strain?
By now, you know that not all probiotic supplements are created equally. When selecting a probiotic, one clue of a reputable brand is if a product lists the genus, species, and strain of the probiotics contained within a product.
I know I probably just confused the heck out of you, so let’s backtrack for a moment! Let’s use Fortify Women’s 50 Billion Probiotic as an example.
On the supplement facts label on the back of the product, you’ll see a whole bunch of probiotics listed. Near the top, you’ll see Lactobacillus paracasei Lpc-37®. In this case, Lactobacillus is the genus, paracasei is the species, and Lpc-37 is the strain.
The benefits of probiotics are due to the particular species and strain, and transparency is of key importance so you know exactly what you’re consuming. If you feel like sleuthing, you can look up the benefits of specific strains on sites such as PubMed.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
When it comes to probiotics, there are so many benefits you can get from specific supplements. I’m going to cover just a few here.
You may be most familiar with the gastrointestinal benefits of probiotics. The supplements can help promote digestive balance and even help prevent occasional gas, bloating, and constipation.*
This may be the next most commonly known potential benefit of probiotics. Particular probiotics can help support a healthy immune response and immune health.*
I like the Fortify Daily Probiotic 30 and 50 Billion products, which contain a high number of probiotic strains to support gut health and diversity, as well as immune health.* Like all probiotics from the brand, these supplements survive stomach acid to deliver good bacteria to the small intestine and colon.
You also get prebiotics in the mix, which support growth of good bacteria within your body.* Plus, the products are gluten-free certified and NON-GMO Project verified, important if you’re looking for those certifications.
As a female healthcare practitioner, this may be the benefit I’m most excited about! In addition to promoting digestive and immune health, the Fortify Women’s Daily Probiotic 30 and 50 Billion supplements also may benefit vaginal health.*
The probiotics contain the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001™ and Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14®, which work in synergy to support women’s health.
How to Buy a Credible Probiotic Supplement
We chatted about this earlier, but because it’s so important I’m going to remind you: When it comes to selecting a good probiotic supplement, it’s essential to choose a probiotic that lists the genus, species, and strain on its label.
This is because you want to make sure the probiotic you’re buying has research behind it to show a health benefit—and you want to ensure the probiotic you’re choosing comes from a company committed to making sure the probiotics it sells are based on researched strains. You can often find this information on a brand’s website or on a product’s package.
Another important factor: Choose a product that’s been third-party verified. This indicates a probiotic has been tested by an outside party to contain what it says it does on the label, and verifiers often check that products aren’t contaminated.
Third-party verifiers include USP, NSF International, and Tru-ID. Verification is typically featured on the front or back label of a product. Fortify™ Probiotics uses Tru-ID testing, which employs cutting-edge DNA biotechnology to ensure the authenticity of supplements.
Whew, that was a lot of information! I hope you now feel more confident in your probiotics shopping. In the coming weeks, I’m going to be bringing you more information on probiotics—so stay tuned!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Statistics From the National Health Interview Survey, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Policy Regarding Quantitative Labeling of Dietary Supplements Containing Live Microbials: Guidance for Industry, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- Fortify™ Women's 50 Billion Probiotic Digestive, FortifyProbiotics.com
I’d love to hear from you! Which health benefits of probiotics are you most excited about?
Comment below, or tag @amydgorin on and and @amygorin on and . Also download my free plant-based grocery list and meal plan.
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