How to Read a Probiotic Label (Plus Best Probiotic Strains to Look For)

Posted by Ethan Boldt on

By Jill Levy

Probiotics are now one of the most widely used supplements by the general public — and for good reason, considering they can help to deliver support for healthy elimination, reduction of occasional bloating, gas, diarrhea, a healthy inflammation response, oral health and more.

While it might seem like a no-brainer to take a daily probiotic, it can be confusing when it comes time to actually choose one in stores. With a handful of different types of products now available, and a wide range of colony forming unit (CFU) counts and probiotic strains to consider, some guidance is often needed to choose the best probiotic supplements.

Read on to find out how to read a probiotic label to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth, plus tips on identifying which types of formulas may be best suited for you.

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Types of Probiotics

Due to growing demand for probiotic supplements (not to mention probiotic food and beverages, too), there are now a variety of products to choose from, including capsules, powders, beverages and more.

What are the characteristics of a good probiotic supplement? High-quality probiotics that are most likely to offer you substantial benefits typically have these things in common:

  • High CFU count: Probiotic dosage is measured in “colony forming units,” or CFUs, which represents how potent/concentrated the supplement is with microbes.
  • Diverse range of bacterial strains: This should ideally include some that have been shown in studies to be supportive of gut health. Consuming a wide range of strains helps to provide multiple benefits, since each strain has unique effects.
  • Survivability: Being survivable means the bacteria can make it to the intestines without being diminished or significantly killed off. One of the goals of taking a probiotic supplement is to actually get the beneficial bacteria through your stomach and to your intestines where they can provide digestive health support.
  • Living vs. “dead on arrival”: “Live and active cultures” are a better bet than “made with active cultures.” After fermentation, the product may be heat-treated to prolong the shelf-life; however, this often kills off both good and bad bacteria.

Unfortunately, many types of probiotic products are not very hardy, and essentially many of the microbes “die off” due to high body temperatures and the presence of stomach acids before even making it to the right parts of the GI tract. This is why choosing a “survivable” probiotic supplement, such as Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotic formulas, is a wise investment.

Soil-based organisms (SBOs) or soil-based probiotics are often hardier than other types of probiotics and resistant to harsh environments for better survivability.

SBOs are the same microbes found in dirt that help support plant life, making them much more resilient than many other types of probiotics. They can also be taken in supplement form to help support gut health and healthy immune system function, especially since many people today are thought to be lacking SBOs due to modern-day “over-sanitation.”

Another factor to consider when choosing a probiotic product is how the supplement is intended to be stored. Some probiotics require refrigeration in order to keep them active and alive, so you’ll want to pay attention to storage recommendations when purchasing a supplement. One of the attractive things about SBO Probiotics is that they can be stored at room temperature, rather than needing to be kept cold.

What Are the Best Probiotic Strains?

Which probiotic strain is best? Ultimately, the best strains for you will depend on your goals and any benefits you seek. There are many specific strains of probiotics found in supplement form, each of which has been shown to offer specific health benefits.

Generally speaking, there are two main species of probiotic strains, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, that are most widely available in both probiotic foods and supplements. These strains have been associated with benefits including support for healthy immune system function, digestive health and more.

It’s believed that some of the most beneficial probiotic strains include those below, which generally support normal microflora in the gut, a healthy immune system, normal digestion and a healthy intestinal community.

  • Bacillus subtilis — may specifically help reduce occasional diarrhea.
  • Lactobacillus plantarum — known to help support general digestive wellness, including nutrient absorption.
  • Bacillus coagulans — may specifically help reduce occasional constipation.
  • Lactobacillus gasseri — may help with healthy appetite support, breakdown of nutrients, and nutrient absorption.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii — helps to maintain balance of healthy microflora in the gut.
  • Bacillus clausii — known to support general immune health.
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Lactobacillus fermentum
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus sporogens

In addition to taking a product with the strains above, it’s also smart to choose one that contains prebiotics. For probiotic bacteria to grow, they need prebiotics which serve as their “fuel,” allowing them to thrive so they can continue to support healthy digestion and offer overall immune system support.

Examples of prebiotic ingredients (preferably fermented to support absorption) to look for when reading a probiotic label generally include: flaxseed, chia seed, cañihua seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean and turmeric.

Amounts and When to Take

In terms of how much to take, what’s a good amount or serving size of probiotics for adults? For example, is 50 billion probiotic CFUs too much?

A general recommendation is for adults to take least 10 billion–20 billion CFUs per day, or 5 billion–10 billion CFUs each day for children.

However, higher doses between 50 billion–100 billion per day may also be beneficial for some adults depending on their needs, but it’s often best to start with a lower dose and to gradually increase as needed. Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation.

For the best results, aim to take your probiotic first thing in the morning, about 15–30 minutes before breakfast. Generally speaking, this ensures that your probiotic supplement is able to reach your digestive tract quickly without getting stuck in the stomach, where there will typically be increased acid if you’ve recently eaten.

Our Probiotic Supplements

Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotic formula contains many of the same soil-derived probiotic strains your great-grandparents and ancestors naturally ingested when they fresh enjoyed fruits and veggies straight out of the garden — including Bacillus subtilis and Lactobacillus plantarum.

A key difference, however, is that our SBO Probiotics supplements are formulated to maximize quality and bioavailability. Additionally, many of our probiotic formulas are combined with fermented, organic botanical ingredients to further help support healthy digestion.

Within all of Ancient Nutrition’s probiotic supplements, you’ll find probiotic strains including Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Bacillus clausii — which are capable of making it to the gut where they can colonize. There, these strains offer benefits such as supporting healthy microflora, supporting nutrient absorption, and helping with creation of B vitamins, vitamin K2, antioxidants and enzymes.

Here’s a bit more about the different probiotic formulas available by Ancient Nutrition, which are tailored for various interests including healthy immune system support, gut support, and support specifically for adult men and women:

  • SBO Probiotics Ultimate — Features 50 billion shelf-stable CFUs* (at time of manufacture) of SBOs per serving, along with prebiotics and postbiotics to create a “trifecta approach.” Intended to help support healthy bowel transit time and digestive function, healthy immune system function and gut flora, normal nutrient absorption, and more.
  • SBO Probiotics Gut Restore — Provides a powerful combination of 25 billion SBOs* (*at time of manufacture) plus prebiotics, postbiotics, organic licorice, marshmallow, zinc and magnesium. This product is specifically intended to support overall healthy gut function. It can help promote normal bowel transit time, digestive health, and a reduction in occasional constipation, gas and bloating.
  • SBO Probiotics Women’s — Features a blend of 25 CFUs* (*at time of manufacture) of SBOs per serving in combination with organic fermented blend of superfoods such as chasteberry and ashwagandha, formulated specifically to help support women’s health. It helps promote healthy digestive and immune system support, helps reduce stress and promote a positive mindset, and helps reduce fatigue.
  • SBO Probiotic Men’s — Supplies men with 25 CFUs* (*at time of manufacture) of SBOs per serving, in combination with an organic fermented blend of ashwagandha, fenugreek, ginger and fo-ti root. Formulated specifically to help support men’s health, this product helps boost muscle mass, strength, serum testosterone levels and recovery while also supporting digestive and immune system health.

    Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.