What should I consider when buying probiotic products?

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Nancee Jaffe, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
When buying a probiotic, it’s important to consider the species. The two main species to look for are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You should also look for the different strains of the species. For example, you could see "L" something or "A" something. The "L" would be for lactobacillus, the species, and the next word would be the strain -- for example, acidophilus. The more strains that are available the better. Probiotics that have 10 to 12 different strains in them are really beneficial.

You should also look at the dose, which can range from a low of 5 billion bacteria to as high as 900 billion bacteria. It would be good to start at somewhere around 15 to 30 billion bacteria. That's a very modest amount.

Make sure that the probiotic is free of gastrointestinal irritants, such as fructose (FOS) and milk. Look for one that has no extra ingredients. You just want the straight species and strains of bacteria.

Lastly, you should check the expiration date to make sure it has not passed. Remember that probiotics are living organisms, so you want to make sure that they're still viable when you introduce them into your system.
Julie T. Chen, MD
Internal Medicine
Some guidelines when buying probiotics: buy as far away from the Use By date as possible, start with a low dose, and read the label to ensure you know the ingredients. Watch as integrative medicine expert Julie Chen, MD, explains these guidelines.
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Some companies are making different versions of naturally containing probiotic foods. Many of these I find worth exploring, especially if dietary preferences or intolerances restrict certain foods (such as dairy). But also be a knowledgeable consumer and be wary of marketing or food trends. For example, of the numerous amounts of yogurts being marketed for their probiotics, be cautious of consuming higher than necessary (and higher than healthy) amounts of sugar in the name of getting in probiotics (which are found naturally in good quality yogurts).

Find out how many probiotics are in these specially created probiotic yogurts (many don't say on the label) as opposed to a regular yogurt as opposed to a frozen yogurt marketed for its probiotic content. Per serving, my resources show them to all be similar, so make your choice based on what your palate desires and skip the sugar-coated probiotic unless you were going for something sugar-coated anyway!

For individuals without the health issues described above and who have never take antibiotics, increasing probiotic consumption through food should be sufficient to maintain bacteria balance. However, for those seeking to address health issues impacted by bacteria imbalance, I recommend a probiotic supplement in addition to dietary modifications which may include probiotic sources as well. Supplements can guarantee that one gets a probiotic dosage sufficient to begin to correct the balance. The necessary quantity ranges with the type and severity of the health issue.

A word on supplements -- they are not all created equal. The type of probiotic, "strain specificity", is critical when it comes to the selection of a probiotic supplement to address a health issue. Certain strains demonstrate greater effectiveness than others on symptoms. Additionally, probiotic supplements, absent government oversight of probiotic production may not contain what they say they do, or the bacteria may not be alive at the time you take the supplement despite it being packaged alive (probiotics are very heat sensitive which is why most require refrigeration. So caution with product selection is recommended, ask your healthcare practitioner.

Continue Learning about Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements

Whether you're visiting the drug store, grocery or natural food shop you'll likely find an aisle where there are jars and bottles of things for you to put in your body that are neither foods nor medicines. Ranging from vitamins an...

d minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.