We’ve already reviewed some of the best probiotic supplements, but here we’ll share with you some tips on how to choose the one that’s best for you.
1. Research Your Current Medical Condition
Before taking any new supplement or medication, it’s always good to talk to your doctor or dietician first. Probiotics show promise for the treatment of many health conditions, but they may be ineffective or even make some conditions worse.
Get a real medical opinion before stocking up on probiotic products. This is especially important if you have a history of allergies or follow certain diets, such as eating gluten-free or vegan.
2. Research Any Claims You’ve Heard Before Believing Them
Dietary supplement companies make many claims about their products’ benefits. Most are science-based. For example, there are many studies that show probiotics can improve your digestive health by restoring the natural balance of your gut bacteria. Probiotics may also improve symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance. They have also been shown to relieve anxiety and depression, improve heart health by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and improve your body’s overall immune system response.
However, some of the claims that probiotics drastically improve men’s sex lives are, so far, not supported by research. Probiotics have been shown to improve sperm quality and testosterone levels, but this does not necessarily translate to probiotics being “the new Viagra,” as some have claimed.
Rather than believing everything you’ve heard from other men or in product reviews on a vendor’s website, it’s in your best interest to verify these claims before you buy. Respected sources of information about probiotics include the American Gastroenterological Association, the National Institutes of Health, and educational institutions such as the Mayo Clinic. These organizations offer evidence-based information as opposed to claims or hearsay.
3. Choose the Right Kinds of Probiotic Strains
Probiotic bacteria come in different varieties. For example, the bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus has been shown to work well for people with IBS, while Lactobacillus delbrueki works better for people with lactose intolerance. When you speak to your medical specialist, be sure to ask whether one particular strain or combination of strains would be better for the condition you want to treat or the benefits you hope to gain.
In general, a good tip is to look for a product with bacterial diversity, meaning it contains multiple strains of well-known and well-studied bacteria. Probiotic supplements often contain mixtures of well-tested bacteria and yeasts and both probiotics and prebiotics. This mixture can result in a synergy between the different strains, which provides a broader range of beneficial effects than using a product containing only one or two strains.
4. Look for Live Cultures or Active Cultures on the Label
Not all beneficial bacteria survive the aging process and maintain their potency after having been packaged and stored prior to sale. Keep this in mind if you seek to increase your intake of probiotic bacteria by adding certain foods to your diet, such as yogurt, cheese, or the popular fermented beverage kombucha.
In particular, look for products that contain GanedenBC30. It may also appear on the label as BC30. It is a well-studied strain that is heat stable and thus more likely to stay alive and intact, even after spending some time on the vendor’s shelf before you purchase it.
5. Look at the Safety of the Products You’re Considering
One of the things your doctor can help you with is identifying the probiotic strains that have been studied to make sure they are safe and free from side effects. The most common–and safest–microbes used in probiotic supplements are strains of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria.
Reports from the National Institutes of Health indicate that most probiotics are low risk because they already exist in our intestines. But it’s always good to check before taking them, especially if you have a history of allergies or food sensitivities.
6. Choose Quality Over Price
Probiotics content is monitored by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the FDA does not check them to verify the health claims made by the maker as it would for drugs. This makes it important to be attentive when choosing which probiotics brand to buy. Tests have found that not all of them contain the amounts of live bacteria listed on their labels, and some contain other strains not listed on the label.
Look for brands that have undergone third-party testing by organizations such as Consumer Labs, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF International. Such testing can help to ensure that the ingredients in the product are as they are described on the label.
You can also ask your doctor for quality brand and store recommendations, or rely on reputable sources such as the ones mentioned in our best probiotic supplements review linked above.
7. Make Sure the Brand You Choose Contains Enough CFUs
Probiotic supplements are measured in terms of colony-forming units (CFUs). This number tells you approximately how many beneficial bacteria you’re getting in each dose of the supplement.
CFU counts can range from one billion to 10 billion or more units per dose, but higher numbers are not always better. Ask your doctor about how many CFUs are right for your individual concerns. Also make sure that the CFU count on the label shows how much you will get per dose when you take the supplement, not just how much it contained when it was manufactured.
8. Read the Label Carefully
The labels on probiotic products should specify which strains they contain and the number of CFUs, but that’s not all that you need to know.
You should also look for information about dose (how much you should take), expiration date (so you don’t buy a big bottle of a product that expires next month), other ingredients (such as soy or dairy, if you are allergic to them), and storage requirements (whether it needs to be refrigerated).
9. Only Choose Probiotics That Have Been Stored Properly
Improper storage can destroy or weaken probiotic supplements. Always check both the manufacturing date and the expiration date of any probiotic supplement you’re considering.
Also make sure it has been stored properly by the vendor, away from heat and moisture. This is especially true if the supplement requires refrigeration. Even if the product you choose doesn't require refrigeration, always store it in a cool, dry place when you get home.
10. Consider Other Ways To Improve Your Gastrointestinal Health
In addition to following these tips, remember that many experts have suggested other ways you can improve your gut health without relying on supplements. Reduce your intake of processed foods, and eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds.
You can also increase your intake of healthy bacteria by consuming naturally-fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, cheese, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and traditional buttermilk. This can improve your health while creating less impact on your budget than stocking up on supplements.
Probiotic supplements have been shown to be beneficial for both physical and mental health. They can improve your digestive health, reduce depression, promote heart health, help you lose weight and even improve the condition of your skin.
Their benefits may take a number of weeks to appear, so don’t expect them to work overnight. But if you check with your doctor and follow the shopping tips above, they can become an important part of your lifestyle and help you to stay healthy, happy, and fit.