What Are Probiotic Supplements?

Probiotic supplements are preparations containing probiotics1, which are intended to enhance and increase the naturally occurring beneficial digestive flora in our large intestines.

What are Probiotic Supplements

These supplements can be purchased in liquid, tablet (e.g. Probiotic Pearls), capsule (e.g Probiotic Advantage), or powder form (e.g. VSL3) with some forms being available both for oral and non-oral administration.

Probiotic supplements are the most widely used form of probiotics in the United States. As a nation, the USA is becoming increasingly health aware and interested in preventative medicine and as a result demand for probiotic supplements is growing. The market has responded by becoming very active, competitive and diverse and as a result there is a wide range of products from which to choose.

Why Take Probiotic Supplements?

Many people wonder whether it is really necessary to take a probiotic supplement. Our answer would be yes, most definitely! Let us consider the reasons why:

Unlike our ancestors, who consumed large numbers of probiotic foods in their diet, our present-day diet no longer contains adequate levels of probiotic bacteria. Nowadays refined sugars, alcohol and coffee also feature heavily in our diets and these substances all damage our natural intestinal flora. Add to this the chlorine in our water, our use of medication (especially antibiotics, which decimate our natural probiotic bacteria) as well as the levels of stress in our everyday lives and the result is that for many of us, our natural levels of beneficial, health promoting bacteria become very diminished.

A good probiotic supplement will replenish the levels of these good bacteria, restoring our digestive balance and providing the well-established health benefits of probiotics. These include:

  • Enhancing the body’s natural defence system.
  • Halting or suppressing the activity of disease causing bacteria, yeasts and parasites.
  • Assisting in managing lactose intolerance.
  • Improving mineral uptake.

Are Probiotics Safe?

Whilst taking probiotic supplements is relatively new to us, ingesting probiotic bacteria is not. For years and years our ancient ancestors prepared and ate their own probiotics in the form of fermented foods such as milk kefir and yogurt. The fermenting process allowed good lactic acid bacteria in the foods to flourish, not only preserving the foods of our forbears, but also providing them with the probiotic bacteria, which both nourished and protected them.

Supplements containing probiotic bacteria are generally considered to be safe. The vast majority of supplements contain lactic acid bacteria similar to that used by our ancestors. These bacteria are widespread in nature – indeed they play an integral role the fermentation process and they are also a natural resident of the human digestive systems, skin, mouth and vagina.

Probiotic Supplements are Thought to be Safe

Most of these helpful bacteria belong to the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria genera. Probiotic bacteria belonging to both these groups have a long history of safe use and have been used in the food processing industry for many years. In the words of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these bacteria are “generally regarded as safe”. Likewise both Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are accepted as safe ingredients for food in both Japan and Europe.

However some members of the genera Enterococcus and Streptococcus include some disease-causing organisms and therefore you should consult your healthcare provider before consuming supplements containing these substances.

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Can Probiotics Cause Illness?

It is reasonable to ask whether or not ingesting bacteria could cause illness by means of infection. Probiotic bacteria are not selected among pathogens and therefore the risk of infection is very low. That said, there are a few published cases of infection attributed to probiotic consumption but these cases are VERY RARE indeed. In these cases, the individuals involved had serious underlying health conditions.

Nevertheless, the evidence base for using probiotics for health-compromised individuals in clinical settings is also strong. With this in mind though, and considering that the study of probiotics for certain groups (e.g. neonates born prematurely and immuno-compromised individuals) is still in its infancy, you should always exercise care when considering probiotic therapy. Whilst probiotics of proven genera, strains and species are safe for use in healthy individuals, if you are considering probiotic therapy, you should always consult your medical provider before you begin.

Can Probiotics Cause Adverse Side-Effects?

Just like conventional medicines, probiotic supplements may induce adverse side effects. Generally speaking healthy people should not see any significant side effects. Those who take probiotics therapeutically to help with an existing health problem (e.g. food intolerance or food sensitivity, infection with Candida Albicans, inflammatory bowel disease etc) are more likely to experience side effects.

Best Probiotics

Many people wonder which are the best probiotics to take. Our reply would be that there is no one best probiotic that suits everyone. There are many excellent products on the market and the best product for you depends on your specific circumstances and treatment aims. Align probiotic for example contains the bacteria Bifidobacteria infantis 35624, which has been clinically proven to help symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Similarly Florastor has been shown in clinical trials to be beneficial in the treatment of Clostridium difficile (C. Diff) infection. If for example you are healthy and would like to take a probiotic simply for preventative measures then good quality lower strength products such as Mutaflor, Dr Ohhira's Probiotics or Culturelle probiotic supplements, are likely to be adequate.

If, however, you are already suffering from ill-health and wish to use a probiotic therapeutically, then a high potency probiotic would be more appropriate. These include:

Should be you following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet though, then only certain probiotics are allowed. Click here for more information in this regard.

Given that there is no single best probiotic on the market and that the choice of probiotic supplements is overwhelming, how best can you wade through the myriad of products on offer so that you select a suitable product? Take a look at our buying advice and this will help you sort through the many different products available.

Buying Advice

You will most probably be overwhelmed when you first start to look at the large range of products on offer – there are just so many choices it can seem impossible to choose. Don’t worry though we are here to help you. We have compiled a set of simple guidelines as well as our easy-to-use cost comparison tool to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Armed with this advice, you can be sure to choose a good, quality probiotic. Please also remember if in doubt ask your chosen retailer questions before you buy.

Buy Probiotic Supplements

We have teamed up with Amazon.com to provide you with an wonderful range of probiotic supplements. We supply standard and high strength probiotics in capsule and powder form to suit your specific need. Click here to visit our aStore.

Internet retailer iHerb.com also supplies a fantastic range of well priced probiotic supplements. If you live outside the USA, don't worry. iHerb's international shipping rates are very reasonable!

Click here to browse their store and receive $5 USD off your first purchase.

Internet Retailer iHerb Supplies A Large Range of Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements are also available from a wide range of outlets including grocery stores, pharmacies, specialist health food stores and on-line retailers.

We have reviewed Internet retailers and have listed the best in our "where to buy" guide. Click here for details.


1. Probiotics can be defined as live microorganisms that through their work within the digestive system provide benefits to health and wellbeing. This description is based on the definition provided jointly by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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