Gut Health

Probiotics: Which One is Best For You? 

There’s more to probiotics than just adding a generic supplement to your daily routine.

By: Lauren Panoff MPH, RD

Probiotics have become a hot topic of conversation, especially as we’ve learned more about the connection between gut health and overall wellness. While this is exciting, there’s more to probiotics than just adding a generic supplement to your daily routine and calling it a day — especially if you’re trying to achieve certain health goals. So, if you find yourself wandering the grocery aisles wondering which probiotic is right for you, you’re in the right place! The good news is that as research continues to develop, we’re learning more and more about the best uses for probiotics. Here’s what we know so far when it comes to choosing the best probiotic for you. 

What is a Probiotic?

Probiotics are beneficial microbes — primarily bacteria or yeast — that comprise your gut microbiome, the community of microbes that live in your digestive tract. They’re often referred to as “good” or “friendly” bacteria because they contribute to the balance of digestive microbes in a positive way.

Having adequate probiotics in your gut helps keep harmful microbes at bay, promoting overall health. Scientific studies suggest that consuming probiotics regularly may enhance digestion, boost the immune system, and contribute to various aspects of health, including improved nutrient absorption and a reduced risk of certain gastrointestinal disorders. However, research on who, how, and why people should use probiotics is still developing. 

Probiotics can be found in a variety of fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. Alternatively, many people find it convenient to add probiotics to their routine using supplements, but our understanding of probiotic supplements is still developing.

Probiotic Strains Explained

Supplemental probiotics are widely available today — and there are many strains, forms, and brands to choose from. While it can be nice to have options, choosing the right ones for you can also be overwhelming (without a little know-how, that is). Let’s cover some basics. 

The name of a probiotic consists of several parts that provide information about the specific strain and species of the microorganism. This includes: 

  • Genus: The first part of the name refers to the genus, which is a broader classification of the microorganism. Common probiotic genera include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus.
  • Species: Following the genus is the species, which further categorizes the microorganism. For example, in the name Lactobacillus acidophilus, “acidophilus” is the species.
  • Strain: The strain is a specific subtype or variant of the species. It’s often indicated by a combination of letters or numbers. For instance, in the name Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, “NCFM” is the strain.

Which Probiotic is Right For You? 10 Probiotic Strains to Consider

Different probiotic strains that fall within the same species can have very different characteristics and best uses. This is why it’s important to understand what the existing research says about which probiotic species may be most useful for which health concerns. 

Which probiotic is best for you? It depends. Here are 10 of the most common probiotic species and how they might best support you: 

Lactobacillus acidophilus

Lactobacillus acidophilus may have benefits for heart health, such as supporting normal blood fat levels. It also appears to support digestive health, particularly in the small intestine, and immune function, with particular benefits for individuals with allergies and asthma. Some research suggests this species offers benefits for the vaginal microbiome

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is known for its immune-boosting properties and potential to address gastrointestinal issues. This species may be especially beneficial in the management of inflammatory bowel disease. Some research suggests that it may also help support vaginal health.

Bifidobacterium bifidum

Bifidobacterium bifidum plays a role in the fermentation of dietary fibers and helps maintain intestinal integrity. It may also help restore a healthy gut microbial balance and help alleviate constipation.

Bifidobacterium lactis

Bifidobacterium lactis may help support a resilient immune response, aid in overall digestive comfort, and bowel regularity, and help protect intestinal integrity. 

Lactobacillus casei

Lactobacillus casei assists in the breakdown of carbohydrates and supports a healthy balance in the gut. Some strains may also help maintain sleep quality during times of stress. 

Lactobacillus plantarum

Known for its ability to survive in diverse conditions and contribute to gut health, Lactobacillus plantarum is a probiotic to consider for GI health. Some research suggests this species has promise for inflammatory bowel diseases, metabolic syndrome, obesity, blood sugar regulation, brain health, and heart health. 

Lactobacillus paracasei

Lactobacillus paracasei may contribute to immune system modulation and gastrointestinal well-being. Various strains of Lactobacillus paracasei may have benefits for stress, mood, inflammation, and heart health.

Streptococcus thermophilus

Used in the fermentation of dairy products and may offer digestive benefits. Some Streptococcus thermophilus strains have been found to produce hyaluronic acid (HA) in the digestive tract, with some speculation that it may have anti-aging benefits for the skin

Saccharomyces boulardii

A yeast probiotic known for its effectiveness in addressing diarrhea and supporting gut health

Bifidobacterium longum

Bifidobacterium longum contributes to a healthy balance in the gut and supports immune function. Some studies in cells and animals suggest this species may be helpful in the management of inflammatory bowel disease. 

Other Considerations 

Take a Personalized Approach

When deciding which probiotic species and strain are best for you, it’s important to choose one that aligns with your specific health needs. Consider speaking with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian knowledgeable in digestive wellness to help you choose. 

Factor in Time & Duration

Furthermore, depending on your wellness concerns, the dosage and duration of supplemental probiotics may vary. For example, you might use a specific strain for a period of days when dealing with diarrhea or to counteract the potential digestive side effects of antibiotic usage

Opt for High-Quality Brands

You should also consider factors like which form works best for your lifestyle, whether the probiotic requires refrigeration, and the directed dosage. Look for supplements that bear a third-party certification, such as from NSF International, Consumer Lab, or USP, as this indicates it has been independently tested for quality, purity, and safety. 

As we learn more about probiotic supplements, consider adding natural sources to your diet. Incorporate fermented foods regularly for more consistent benefits to your gut microbiome and overall health. 

The Takeaway 

Found in fermented foods and sold widely in supplemental form, including probiotics — the good microbes that populate your gut and help promote digestive and overall wellness — into your daily routine is a good idea. From improving gut health and supporting immune function to supporting mental health and even skin health, there are so many ways to include these beneficial bugs into your wellness routine. However, there’s more to probiotics than just taking any generic supplement. It’s important to understand the difference between the various species and strains and best uses. Research is ongoing, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. Speak with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian to help you consider the best way to support your unique wellness needs and choose the best probiotic for you!