photo of kimchi
In This Article

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are sometimes called "good bacteria." They’re live bacteria and yeasts help with digestion. 

If you’re ready to add probiotics to your diet, you have a lot of options. One common source is supplements. You can buy them as tablets, capsules, powders, or liquids. Look for them in health food stores, grocery stores, drugstores, and online.

You can also find probiotics in many foods. Yogurt is the most well-known source, but they're also in:

  • Dairy foods like buttermilk, some soft cheeses, fermented milk, and kefir

  • Soy drinks and products like miso and tempeh

  • Kimchi, sauerkraut, and many pickles

Which Probiotic Is Best for You?

Probiotics may help: 

  • Relieve constipation. Probiotics can help soften stools so they’re easier to move.

  • Diarrhea. Good bacteria in probiotics combats the bad and may help make your bouts shorter.

  • Improve IBS.Certain strains of probiotics work better than others for this condition. Ask your doctor which is right for you.

  • Support brain health.Your gut is often called your “second brain” because it makes some of the same neurotransmitters that regulate moods. When your gut is happy, you feel happy. When your gut is sluggish, your brain doesn’t work as well.

  • Improve heart health.Gut bacteria produces chemicals that affect your blood pressure.

  • Boost immunity.Probiotics warn your immune system when bad bacteria may become a disease. 

  • Your General Health.Good gut bacteria affects the way you feel mentally and physically. It can prevent and even treat some diseases. 

Many types of bacteria are probiotics. Each has its own benefits. Talk to your doctor about which one might help you the most.

  • Lactobacillus you’ll find this in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhea and may help with people who can’t digest lactose, the sugar in milk.

  • Bifidobacterium is in some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and some other conditions.

  • Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast found in probiotics. It seems to help fight diarrhea and other digestive problems.

Read Probiotic Labels

If you choose yogurt or another dairy food, look on the label for the phrase "contains live active cultures" or "contains probiotics." Not all yogurts have them. Some frozen yogurts have live cultures and some don’t. 

If you go with a supplement, know that the FDA regulates these products but treats them like foods and not medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, supplement makers don’t have to show their products are safe or effective to sell them. That means that these firms are in charge of checking the safety and labeling of their products before they sell them to make sure they meet FDA rules.

How a probiotic works can vary from brand to brand. That's why it's key to get as much info as you can before you buy. Here are some things you should be able to find on the label:

  • The genus, species, and strain of the probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, for example)

  • The number of organisms that will be alive by the use-by date

  • The dose

  • The company name and contact information

If you can't find this on the label, you may be able to find it on the company's website. While you’re there, look for studies that back up the product's health claims.


Choose Reliable Probiotic Brands

Some companies have been around for years, and you may know their names. Those that have made probiotics for a while may be more likely to have tested and studied them over and over. It's smarter to choose a product from a reputable maker. Check a third-party certifier (like ConsumerLab or the USP) to see if they have tested the product and found that it’s safe and reliable. If you're in doubt, ask your doctor.


How to Take a Probiotic

If your doctor has suggested probiotics, follow their instructions. If you stop taking them, the good effects will end within a couple of weeks. If you have questions, it's always a good idea to ask your doctor. Probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, can become a part of a healthy diet, too.


Show Sources


Harvard Health Publishing: “Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics,” “Ask the Doctor: Will Probiotics Help IBS?” “Probiotics May Help Boost Mood and Cognitive Function,” “Should You Take Probiotics?” “Can Gut Bacteria Improve Your Health?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “The Power of Gut Bacteria and Probiotics for Gut Health.” 

Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: “A Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Probiotics.”