Probiotic Supplements: 5 Purchasing Tips

My Diet Matters
probiotic supplements purchasing

Do you understand how to purchase probiotic supplements? Or, are you unclear on how they differ? Well, take heart, you are definitely not alone. Many healthcare providers can often be confused as well! For purchasing probiotic supplements, you should be aware of the factors that vary with probiotics.

Case in point

My father lived in an assisted living facility a few years ago. The assisted living physician ordered probiotics for him. I remember the doctor sitting at his desk writing the order and at the same time quipping that “all probiotics are the same!” The comment took my breath away. This was only a few years ago, and most health care providers should know they are NOT all the same! There is plenty of research available on how probiotics are both similar but also different. And, there is plenty to consider when purchasing probiotic supplements due to those differences.

Bacteria benefits

A healthy functioning gut has a good balance of bacteria. But, occasionally, that balance of bacteria becomes unbalanced. This may occur due to antibiotic use, illness, stress, or even a poor-quality diet. Research on the health benefits of probiotics is vast and ongoing. Researchers are evaluating how probiotics may affect mental health, cholesterol levels, weight, and various gut conditions. Even our pets are taking these supplements!

1. Packaging of probiotic supplements

Probiotics need to be alive to be effective in your body. If they are dead on arrival on purchase, they will be useless to your gut. Therefore, always take a good look at the packaging. Keep in mind that many strains need to be refrigerated to stay alive. If the product needs refrigeration, be sure online shippers are shipping the product with dry ice during warm weather. Blister packaging is an alternative form of packaging and these supplements do not need refrigeration. It’s also important to keep in mind that the supplement companies are doing their own regulation. Therefore, you might want to use a name brand product to insure quality control.

2. Dosages

Potency is usually noted on the label as CFU which stands for “colony forming units”. The recommended intake for probiotic supplements varies by the strain and intended therapy. For general use, take supplements that have a CFU of at least 1 to 10 billion. Many reputable brands may have higher dosages but they are still safe for the consumer.

3. Strains in probiotic supplements

Contrary to the thoughts of my father’s former physician, bacterial strains do matter. For instance, for antibiotic-related diarrhea, it may be advisable to start taking a common drugstore brand such as Culturelle. This product contains Lactobacillus GG which research has suggested to be effective for some types of diarrhea. Other research suggests that it may be even more effective to take a probiotic with multiple species of organisms. In adult women with IBS, Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to reduce pain, bloating, and bowel movement difficulty. For cholesterol reduction, Lactobacillus reuteri may be therapeutic.

4. Dosing of probiotic supplements

If you are taking probiotics for overall wellness, keep in mind that the organisms only survive for a few days to weeks. Because of this, it is necessary to keep taking them. Speaking of surviving, some probiotics have an outside coating which allows the product to be effectively delivered to the digestive tract.

5. Food sources of probiotics

Many foods also contain probiotics. Think yogurt, kefir milk, sauerkraut, and kombucha as common sources of probiotic rich foods. And, nutrient dense complex carb foods are usually great sources of prebiotics-the food probiotics use. Those gut bacteria need their own fuel, and fiber rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supply that fuel.

Take away

Remembering to keep these key points in mind when purchasing probiotic supplements: packaging, dosages, strains, and dosing should be driving your purchasing decisions. And, while supplements can be purchased, there are plenty of foods that also contain probiotics. To keep those probiotics well fed, be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Has probiotic use helped your health? Share your thoughts!

For information on purchasing other supplements, read on. 

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!


Use this information at your own risk. Although I am a licensed IL dietitian/nutritionist, I am not your dietitian. The information in my blog Chew on This located at is for educational and informational purposes only. It is also my own opinion and subject to change in the future. Please consult with your own medical professionals for individual treatment.