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[Review] Dumbing Down The Mind-Numbing World Of Probiotics; The Complete Probiotic Buyer’s Guide

[Review] Dumbing Down The Mind-Numbing World Of Probiotics; The Complete Probiotic Buyer's Guide

The world of probiotics, shrouded by ridiculous words and even more ridiculous numbers, is dumbfounding. And mind-numbing. Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacteria longum, Lactobacillus acidophilusBifidobacteria bifidum  Helpus meum.

1.5…10…80 Billion CFUs. Oy vey.

At the core, our digestive system is in a state of never-ending Armageddon; perpetually hosting a power struggle between good, probiotic bacteria and bad, harmful bacteria. And that struggle is MASSIVE — the body houses over 100 trillion bacteria at any given moment, equating to approximately 5 pounds in aggregate.12

When bad bacteria counts rise and begin to overwhelm the healthy, probiotic defenders (think of them as cops), our bacterial balance-of-power tips the wrong way and sets off a chain reaction of GI & digestive problems, including: bloating, gas pain, constipation, diarrhea, horrible breath, cancer, and other unpalatable things.

It’s bacterial calamity and it’s ugly.

That’s why taking a probiotic supplement is absolutely critical, and one of the only supplements we recommend taking daily. Probiotics actively culture good bacteria, which eat up space and crowd out the bad strains.

Over time they help cultivate a fluid, powerhouse digestive system that’s resistant to a wide-range of infectious diseases; discomfort-free, especially if you have IBS; less likely to develop cancer; “REGULAR;” and that efficiently breaks down food and absorbs nutrients (think lactose in dairy).345678910

Even more salient, you’ll look and feel better — noone  likes explosive bloating, faux pregnancy, debilitative cramping, repugnant breath, or all of the other misery that comes with a rancid gut.



What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement.

What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement.

Between lofty numbers and nonsensical words, shopping for a probiotic supplement is a complete nightmare. Bacteria merits it’s own vernacular and numerical system; shopping blind will give you an anxiety attack, you’ll significantly overpay, and likely buy a low-value product.

Price aside, there are three major factors to take into account when probiotic-hunting:


1. Bacteria Count.

This is a biggy when it comes to buying probiotics. The AAFP advises:

“Dosage should match that used in clinical studies documenting effectiveness: 5 to 10 billion CFUs per day for children; 10 to 20 billion CFUs per day for adults…there is no evidence that higher dosages are unsafe; however, they may be more expensive and unnecessary”11

What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement.

Aim for anything in the 10-20 billion CFU range (colony-forming unit) as an effective, price-sensitive number. It’s unclear if higher numbers offer additional benefits, but more-likely-than-not, it’s just marketing hype to command more money.


2. Profile of Bacteria Strains.

What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement.

According to the Cali. Dairy Research Foundation:

“Probiotics are described by their genus (e.g., Lactobacillus), their species (e.g.,rhamnosus) and their strain (e.g., GG). This degree of specificity in describing a probiotic is essential since functions can be strain-specific. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG may have different effects from L. rhamnosus GR-1. The strongest recommendation is for probiotics that are supported by strain-specific research.”12

Like with investments, diversification is key — don’t put all of your money into one bacterial basket. Every different genus, species, AND strain can have different functions and effects in the body; a broader spectrum is more beneficial.

Let’s keep things simple. For general health, take a probiotic that contains a lineup of different strains. At a minimum it should include varieties of both:

  • Lactobacillus (L.) — commonly comes in the form of L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, L. fermentum, L. thermophilus, etc.
  • Bifidobacterium (B.) — commonly comes in the form of B. longum, B. bifidum, B. infantis, B. animalis, etc.

However, if you have severe IBS, diarrhea, or other digestive issues, don’t be shocked if your doctor prescribes a specific strain.


3. Quality.

When you buy a LQ product, more-often-than-not, a large percentage of the bacteria will be dead by the time you shove the capsules down your esophagus. If not then, many inferior strains can’t survive the log flume ride through the stomach’s acidic environment, therefore they never hit the intestines (where they start making hay).

ConsumerLab advises:13

“It is not unusual for companies to produce probiotics which, at the time of manufacture, contain double the amount listed as of the ‘Best by’ date on the assumption that 50% of the cells die before the probiotic reaches that date — particularly if the product is not maintained under ideal conditions.”

And dead microorganisms aren’t all that fun or helpful. To keep the probiotic carnage at a minimum, here’s what to look for:1415

  • Enteric-coating — helps protect against stomach acid.
  • Labeling — labels that say viable “through the end of shelf life” and not “at time of manufacture.” CFU when manufactured is NOT equivalent to the amount when taken. Probiotics die if they’re not manufactured or stored properly; the former makes it more likely that you’ll get what you paid for.
  • Refrigeration — in general, probiotics survive better at lower temperatures.
  • Company — the manufacturer and testing methods are critical. Don’t buy anything that’s “as seen on TV” or Gypsy Brand. Reputable companies only; doing research and checking a product’s website is smart if you have a specific product in mind.

Or just take any of the 4 below.



Our Top 4 High-Value Probiotic Supplements.

Our Top 4 High-Value Probiotic Supplements.

We scrubbed the probiotic ecosystem and pulled out the top 4 products, accounting for total CFU, # of strains, price per billion CFU, and quality-testing results provided by ConsumerLab.16

The following 4 options offered the best value, and they’re the only probiotics we’d spend out money on (in order of decreasing CFU):

Your gameplan: If it’s your first foray into probiotics, start on the low end (NN’s PB8), take it for 2-3 weeks, and then gauge how your body reacts. If you feel like rainbows and chartreuse-colored unicorns, stick with it; if your body isn’t responding at all, gradually climb up the ladder until one makes a difference.

In addition to a probiotic supplement, fermented foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, kefir, fermented tofu, some yogurt, and even dark chocolate are powerful, food-based sources to enrich your body with healthy bacteria.

*Lean It UP has no financial interest in any of the products or companies mentioned.


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References, Notes, Links

  1. SFGate — 100 trillion good bacteria call human body home []
  2. []
  3. ConsumerLab — Acidophilus and Other Probiotics []
  4. ConsumerLab — Probiotics for Adults, Children and Pets []
  5. Dr. David Williams — Probiotics & Digestion []
  6. Wollowski I, Rechkemmer G, Pool-Zobel BL. Protective role of probiotics and prebiotics in colon cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb;73(2 Suppl):451S-455S. []
  7. Verma A, Shukla G. Probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus suppresses DMH-induced procarcinogenic fecal enzymes and preneoplastic aberrant crypt foci in early colon carcinogenesis in Sprague Dawley rats. Nutr Cancer. 2013;65(1):84-91. []
  8. Whorwell PJ, Altringer L, Morel J, et al. Efficacy of an encapsulated probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in women with irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2006;101(7):1581–1590. []
  9. Bausserman M, Michail S. The use of Lactobacillus GG in irritable bowel syndrome in children: a double-blind randomized control trial. J Pediatr. 2005;147(2):197–201. []
  10. Sazawal S, Hiremath G, Dhingra U, Malik P, Deb S, Black RE. Efficacy of probiotics in prevention of acute diarrhoea: a meta-analysis of masked, randomised, placebo-controlled trials. Lancet Infect Dis. 2006;6(6):374–382. []
  11. AAFP — Probiotics []
  12. []
  13. []
  14. []
  15. []
  16. ConsumerLab Probiotics []


Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Owner & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
Bryan DiSanto is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a culinary student at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, an ACE-CPT & CSN, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness/nutrition nutjob.

He also contributes to Men's Health Magazine.

When he’s not working on his (or somebody else’s) abs, whipping up Eggocados, or running a Tough Mudder, he’s probably off yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
Bryan DiSanto
  • Mark Echevarria

    Does anyone know when this Was written? I’m trying to make sure this information on these brands and content are still relevant.

    • Bryan DiSanto

      July, 2013 (dates are always at the top). The only thing that might’ve fluctuated would be the price for each supplement, but that would only vary by few dollars.

      • Mark Echevarria

        Thanks I didn’t see that. Very helpful and well written.

        • Bryan DiSanto

          Thanks Mark. If you have any questions, let me know!

  • finallywakingup

    Vitamin World Probiotic 10
    ◊20 billion active cultures per serving guaranteed at time of manufacture.

    Your article advises against this product but, at the end you recommend this product. I am somewhat confused. I say that your article advises against this product as it offers info as to what to look for and what to look out for such as: Labeling — labels that say viable “through the end of shelf life” and not “at time of manufacture.

    • Bryan DiSanto

      Legitimate question. We’re comfortable recommending it based on the combo of price, strain breadth, quality, etc. — ConsumerLab tested the VW Probiotic (amongst all of the others) and they found that it was accurately labeled at the time of use.

      For context, comparable probiotics in that price & CFU range all guarantee at time of manufacturing. You typically won’t see a guarantee through the end of shelf life claim until you hit the higher end. As long as you stick the bottle in a refrigerator and use the bottle by the “take-by” date, you should be completely fine.

      It’s always a trade off between different factors. I personally use the PB8 and it’s helped immensely. I haven’t really had any reason to upgrade.

      • ThiefOfHearts

        I wanna get the PB8 for my SO, he suffers from bloat, anyway did you get yours in store or online? do you trust it online despite the fact that its supposed to be in the fridge and you cant know for sure whether online retailers keep it cool..thoughts?

        • Bryan DiSanto

          I personally do. It’s the main probiotic I’ve used for the past year and I’ve noticed a big difference when I’m on it.

          Refrigeration helps, but it isn’t absolutely necessary as long as the probiotics are stored near room temperature. I’m sure there’s a small impact, but given the inexpensive price (and the fact that it’s proven effective), I’m comfortable with that risk.

          If you’re dropping serious cash on a higher end brand like Garden of Life though, I’d try to find it in-person.

          • ThiefOfHearts

            Thanks :)

    • probioticsetc

      You can use Brian’s points and find similar products of your choice (amongs hundred’s) listed on our small website. Its a free website created especially for folks trying to find their supplement and not have to read each label in the store. We even provide a link to the product supplement facts. We don’t sell anything. Its free to use.

  • Robin

    I know this is almost a year old, but I have a question: I’m interested in switching from RenewLife Ultimate Flora to the Garden of Life probiotics. Does GOL meet the delayed release requirement? It doesn’t say delayed release on the bottle, but they use something called UltraZorbe to protect the capsule from stomach acid. Is this good enough? Thanks for this article!

    • Bryan DiSanto

      As long as you use it by the “best by” date you’re completely fine. It’s definitely pricey, but GOL is one of the high-quality probiotic supps.

  • ElcyIL

    Hi Bryan,

    Hopefully you’re still around…

    You don’t mention refrigeration. Some sites say it’s critical, others seem to minimize it’s need. Did you run across anything that helped you form an opinion on this topic?

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