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How to choose a probiotic: 5 Things to Consider

Updated: Jun 22, 2018

So you’ve heard enough about the benefits of probiotics and are ready to pick one up at the store? With supplement shelves overflowing with choices now, it can be difficult to tell which ones are worth considering. The eye-catching one? The cheaper one? The one with the largest CFU?

Not all #probiotics are equal!

Here are some things to think about when you make your choice:

1.What do you want to achieve by taking a probiotic?     -General prevention? Re-population of your gut? Or something more specific?

Some strains have been shown to be indicated for certain conditions. For instance, Saccharomyces boulardii has been helpful for traveler’s diarrhea and food poisoning. Lactobacillus acidophillus and Streptococcus thermophilus has been suggested to help with lactose intolerance. Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum have been shown to help regulate bowel movements and relieve symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And the list goes on! Whether you want to improve the state of your GI or just freshen your breath, there’s probably a probiotic product out there.

2. How would you like to take it?   - In pill form? As food?

    Pills are convenient and can be standardized, but in real life, it’s rather easy to forget to take them. It’s worth considering a probiotic that seems more appealing to you so you remember and maybe even look forward to taking it, rather than dreading taking another pill. For the kids and those who can’t take pills very well, consider the size of each capsule. I personally hate swallowing anything bigger than a small kernel whole, so I opt to take multiple smaller pills instead of one large pill to reach the same dose.     -Another option is to consider consuming foods with naturally occurring probiotics. Food as medicine! Fermented foods!

3. What kind of bacteria?     -ex. Lactobacillus acidophilus (HA-122) Each bottle should state the Genus, species and (strain) of the bacteria that are encapsulated. If you want to support diversity of your gut flora, you’ll want to look for one with a bunch of different species. But not just any, make sure they’re species that can colonize in the human gut. It’s important to remember that the organisms in probiotics are ALIVE (check the label for that!) and are capable of interacting not only with the environment, but also with each other. The proper strains together can have a synergistic effect!

4. How many CFU (colony forming units) in each capsule?     -CFUs are the unit for measuring the number of viable bacteria per capsule that are capable of colonizing in your body. Consider the therapeutic effects you want to achieve and consult with your naturopathic physician on the dosage right for you. Unfortunately, since probiotics are not regulated by the FDA, not every product is going to be good quality. Be sure to check to see if the bottle says, “viable through end of shelf life” or something to that effect to guarantee they’ll be alive until the marked date. Dead bacteria make no colonies! Be careful you don’t get tricked by the manufacturing date though. Sometimes, manufacturers can make a guarantee that the bacteria are alive on the date of manufacture. This should make you think if that's all they can guarantee...

5. What else is in there?     -Fillers? GMO products? Heavy metals?

Make sure to read the non-medicinal ingredients and look out for things that like corn and soy fillers, especially if you're against genetically modified organisms. Ask your naturopathic doctor if you're confused about any long confusing names on the label, or look them up online for a better idea of what they might be doing in there. I tend to be a believer of simple is best, but your values are yours alone!

Look up the company for more information on their values and vision. In general, professional brands are dedicated to a higher quality product and tend to add fewer extras to keep in line with their brand image. Third party testing, and data available on for public viewing are good indications you want to look out for in a trusted company.

Finally, ask your naturopathic doctor! They will consider quality, price range, therapeutic effect and your preferences to help you make the right choice. Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. Health-related information contained in this post is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a Naturopathic Doctor. The advice is intended to offer only a general basis for individuals to discuss their medical condition with their health care provider. Always consult your licenses Naturopathic Physician, or visit the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medical Clinic for individualized care.


1.Decker, Chris, ND. (2014, December 23). A New Probiotic Frontier. Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. Retrieved from 2.Fulop, Judy, ND. (2014, January 7). Disease, Health and the Microbiome. Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. Retrieved from 3.Gangull, S.C. (2010). Probiotics for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.The Inside Tract 176. 4.Hickson, M. (2011). Probiotics in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and Clostridium difficile infection. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology 4(3): 185-197. 5.Kang, M.S., Kim, B.G., Chung, J., Lee, H.C., Oh, J.S. (2006). Inhibitory effect of Weissella cibaria isolates ont he production of volatile sulphur compounds. Journal of Clinical Periodontology 33(3): 226-232. 6.Krasse, P., Carlsson, B., Dahl, C., Paulsson, A., Nilsson, A., Sinkiesicz, G. (2006). Decreased Gum Bleeding and Reduced Gingitivis by the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri. Swedish Dental Journal 30(2): 55-60. 7.Wickens, K., Black, P., Stanley, T.V., Mitchell, E., Barthow, C., Fitzharris, P., Purdie, G., Crane, J. (2012). A protective effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 gainst eczema in the first 2 years of life persists to age 4 years. Clinical & Experimental Allergy 42: 1071-1079.

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