The Best Ways to Use Probiotics

If you’re ready to add probiotics to your diet, you have a lot of options. Now that more research shows these "good bacteria" may help with digestive problems, you just need to know where to find them.

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 One Is Right for You?

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

For example, different strains of lactobacillus bacteria, found in some yogurts, can help with some types of diarrhea.

Read the Label

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 do not. 

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 a Reliable Brand

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 his 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 19, 2019
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