Probiotics Frequently Asked Questions

This page provides answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding probiotics. To make it easier for you to find the answers you are looking for, we've arranged the questions and answers according to topic.

General Questions

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live micro-organisms (mainly bacteria but also yeasts) which are thought provide numerous health benefits. In order to provide these health benefits, probiotics need to be able to survive the acidic environment of the stomach. They also need to be eaten in adequate quantities.

What are the proven health benefits of probiotics?

There is a good deal of scientific evidence suggesting that probiotics are effective for gastrointestinal problems including1:

Research also suggests that probiotics can inhibit tumors, improve immune function and reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Are all probiotics the same in terms of their health benefits?

No, the health benefits are specific to the genus (clan e.g. Lactobacillus), species (family name e.g. acidophilus) and strain (first name e.g. DDS-1). Different strains can have different effects. Therefore if you want to try a probiotic for a specific complaint be sure to select the specific strain that has been proven to help your particular condition.

How can I add probiotics to my diet?

You can add probiotics to your diet either by eating probiotic foods (including beverages) or by taking probiotic supplements. Generally speaking, probiotic supplements usually contain higher numbers of probiotic organisms than probiotic foods. However probiotic foods do have an advantage over probiotic supplements. Many such as probiotic yogurt, milk kefir and vegetable ferments (e.g. fermented cabbage, also known as sauerkraut) are rich in nutrients and/or fiber. Be aware too that many of the processed probiotic foods (e.g. cereals, granola, ice-cream) that have recently appeared on our grocery-store shelves are often high in sugar and additives.

When is the best time to take probiotics?

When you eat a meal, the pH of the stomach rises. The higher the pH, the more likely it is that the probiotic organisms will survive their journey through the stomach. It therefore makes sense to take a probiotic around half an hour after eating.

Where can I purchase probiotics?

You can purchase probiotic foods from grocery and health food stores. As far as probiotic supplements are concerned, these can be purchased from on-line retailers and over-the-counter from pharmacies.

What side-effects should I expect when starting probiotics?

You may experience symptoms of bloating, flatulence (gas), abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea in the first few days of probiotic therapy. These symptoms occur as your digestive system rebalances in favor of the good bacteria. The symptoms should subside after a few days. However, if they persist, then you can always reduce your dosage and ramp back up slowly.

Are probiotics safe for children?

Yes, both probiotic foods and supplements are safe for children. There is a wide range of probiotic supplements which are suitable for children. Click here for further details. These are available in a variety of forms including chewable tablets, capsules and powder. Probiotics are also suitable for infants. Once weaned, probiotic foods can be introduced into a baby’s diet. Certain probiotic supplements are also appropriate for infants. Have a look at our page on baby probiotics for more information in this regard.

Probiotic Supplement Questions

Where can I buy probiotic supplements?

You can buy probiotic supplements over-the-counter in grocery and drug stores, at health food stores and on-line from Internet retailers.

Look around before you buy any product. Be sure to buy smart by comparing the price of your chosen product across several retailers. You will often find that the same product sells for numerous different prices. A quick comparison will save you money!

Some probiotic supplements are cheap, whilst others are expensive. How do I know which supplement offers the best value for money?

The key here is consider the number of probiotic organisms contained in the product. Some probiotic supplements contain very few beneficial organisms, whilst others contain much higher quantities.

Information regarding the number of bacteria contained in a product is measured in colony forming units (CFUs) and is listed on the label of all probiotic supplements. Take a look beside “colony-forming units” or “CFUs” on the product label and you will find out how many viable probiotic organisms are contained in each product serving. You can then use this information compare the total number of colony-forming units contained in various products. Click here for our easy-to-use cost comparison tool.

Do all probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated?.

The vast majority of probiotic supplements require refrigeration. However, there are some products, which can be stored at room temperature. These include Align Probiotic, Dr Ohhira’s Probiotics (also known as OMX Probiotics), Florastor and Probiotic Advantage.

I am taking oral antibiotics. Should I take probiotics too?

A side effect of oral antibiotic therapy is that it can adversely affect your digestive flora, wiping out your colonies of good bacteria. As a result one of the most common complaints regarding oral antibiotic therapy is diarrhea. Taking a probiotic supplement can help replenish your good flora, relieving the gastric upset. Remember to take your probiotic supplement at least two hours after your antibiotic dose. This way, the antibiotics do not destroy the good bacteria in the supplement. Continue taking your probiotic supplement for at least two weeks after you have finished your course of antibiotics.

Can I take my probiotic supplement with my vitamin pills?

Yes, probiotic supplements can be taken with vitamin supplements.

I have trouble swallowing tablets and capsules. Is it possible to get probiotics in a different form?

Yes, many probiotic supplements are available in powder form such as VSL#3 and Custom Probiotics formulations.

You can also buy probiotic supplements in liquid-form. American Health Probiotic Acidophilus is one such example.

Eating probiotic foods would also allow you to ingest probiotic organisms without having to swallow tablets or capsules. Examples of probiotic foods are probiotic yogurt, milk kefir, fermented cabbage (also known as sauerkraut), tempeh, and kimchi.

Do all probiotic supplements contain milk?

Many probiotic supplements are grown on milk-based mediums and thus will contain traces of milk. Those containing bacteria belonging to the Lactobacillus clan (genus) are most likely to contain milk as these bacteria thrive best in a dairy medium and thus are usually grown on milk. There are however some probiotic supplements that are dairy free. These include:

If you are not sure whether or not a certain probiotic supplement contains dairy, then contact the product manufacturer and inquire as to the growing medium.

Are Super Shield probiotics compliant with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)?

No, Super Shield probiotic supplements are not compliant with the SCD as they contain numerous strains of Bifidobacteria, which are not permitted on the diet.

For details of probiotic supplements which are SCD compliant click here.

Probiotic Food Questions

Do all probiotic foods contain milk?

No,only certain probiotic foods contain milk. These include:

  • Probiotic yogurt

  • Milk kefir

  • Buttermilk

  • Crème fraiche

  • Acidophilus milk

  • Fermented dairy milks such as Yakult

  • Aged cheeses (for example Gouda, Emmental, Edam and Cheddar)

There are many probiotic foods, which are free of milk products. These include vegetable ferments such as fermented cabbage and Korean kimchi as well as bean ferments including Indonesian Tempeh and miso.

Are probiotic beverages such as Yakult safe for pregnant women? If so, how many bottles are allowed per day?

Yes, probiotic beverages such as Yakult are suitable for pregnant women. The manufacturers of Yakult state that their product "can be drunk by pregnant and breast-feeding mothers as part of a normal balanced diet"3.

The recommended intake of Yakult is one to two bottles per day.

I already take a Chinese herbal extract (Jian Pi Wan: Ginseng & Citrus Formula) to help maintain healthy digestive function. Will taking a probiotic beverage such as Yakult complement this, or will there be any conflict between the two?

We are not familiar with this herbal extract. Our only suggestion would be that you take the Yakult at least two hours after taking the herbal extract so that if the latter contains any herbs with antibiotic properties, it will not destroy the probiotic organisms and they will thus reach your gut alive.

Not found the answer to your question regarding probiotics on this page?

Then please submit your question to us using our specific "Ask a Question" form. We will do our best to answer your question as soon as possible.


1.Current Level of Consensus on Probiotic Science. Report of an Expert Meeting

Available at:

2.Hunter J.O & Huntley K, The Management of Multiple Food Intolerances, Foods Matter, Dec 2009


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