The Best Probiotics for Digestive Health

Mary Lucas, RN

Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 5/18/2022

If you’ve ever looked into supplements for improving your digestive health, you’ve likely come across recommendations for probiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are usually taken to improve digestive health. Over the last few decades, they’ve grown hugely in popularity as health supplements. In fact, global sales of probiotics are projected to reach more than $64 billion by 2023, respectively.

Like with other supplements, understanding how probiotics work, identifying their benefits and knowing which ones are worth the money can be confusing.

Below, we’ve explained what probiotics are and looked at the latest scientific research on their potential health benefits. 

We’ve also covered the best probiotics for digestive health, with specific bacteria for improving your wellbeing and promoting a healthy digestive tract. 

Finally, we’ve shared some other options for improving your gastrointestinal health, preventing digestive issues and promoting the growth of good bacteria. 

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live, active microorganisms — usually bacteria and yeasts — that can be found in some foods and dietary supplements. They’re often promoted for their health benefits, such as improving digestion and immune health.Some probiotics are also used in skin care products.

For many people, the idea of deliberately consuming bacteria to improve digestion and prevent disease might seem, well, a little weird. This is understandable, since there are countless “bad” types of bacteria out there, many of which can cause serious diseases.

However, the reality is that our bodies also depend on certain types of “good” bacteria for many important internal functions, including digesting food properly, synthesizing vitamins and fighting back against infections and disease.

Some beneficial bacteria are even involved in regulating certain aspects of your mental function, including your moods, feelings of anxiety, cognitive performance and pain perception. 

These bacteria primarily reside throughout your gastrointestinal tract — the part of your body that digests food and supplies your organs with the nutrients they need to function properly.

Do Probiotics Improve Your Digestive Health?

Researchers have studied the potential benefits of probiotic supplements and other products for decades, with studies looking at their potential for treating common digestive conditions such as diarrhea and ulcerative colitis (a form of inflammation that affects the colon).

Although we still don’t understand the exact role that specific probiotic bacteria play in digestive health, some research does show that they may offer benefits for your digestive system.

For example, existing research suggests that probiotics may help to prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotic use. There’s also some evidence that probiotics may treat gum disease and play a role in controlling the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

An increasing amount of evidence also suggests that probiotics may help to treat issues related to digestion, including lactose intolerance.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that research into the health benefits of probiotics is still ongoing, and there’s a lot that we still don’t know, including which specific probiotics are helpful for many conditions.

Still, research into the potential benefits of probiotics is promising, and we’ll likely find out more about how these beneficial bacteria can help with digestive health as studies continue over the next few decades. 

detox gut health probiotic

a probiotic that gently cleanses and rebalances the digestive system

The Best Probiotics for Digestive Health

Many different probiotics have been linked to improvements in digestive health, including some that can be found in foods and supplements. Most of these probiotics come from two genera of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. 

When you’re comparing probiotic products, it’s important to check the ingredients label for good bacteria. Below, we’ve shared several probiotic strains to look for in probiotic capsules, powders and other supplements. 

Lactobacillus

Lactobacillus is a bacteria that live throughout your digestive system and urinary tract. Lactobacillus is a “friendly bacteria” that’s important for absorbing key nutrients in food and supporting proper immune function.

Many species of lactobacillus bacteria appear to reduce the severity of diarrhea, control eczema and support vaginal health. Try to look for the following species of Lactobacillus bacteria when you’re shopping for probiotic supplements: 

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus. This type of Lactobacillus bacteria is found throughout your mouth and intestines. Research suggests that it may help with certain types of diarrhea, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea and traveler's diarrhea.
    Other research shows that specific strains of ​​Lactobacillus acidophilus might reduce the severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, such as abdominal discomfort and cramps.

  • Lactobacillus reuteri. This is another species of Lactobacillus found in the mouth and intestines. One study found that milk containing this type of bacteria inhibits the growth of bad bacteria that can contribute to tooth decay.

Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria is another genus of bacteria that are found in your digestive tract. Bifidobacteria aid digestion, help your body to absorb nutrients and provide protection against other bacteria that can cause digestive system issues and diseases.

Look for the following species of Bifidobacteria when you’re comparing probiotic supplements:

  • Bifidobacterium animalis. This species of Bifidobacterium is associated with intestinal barrier function and immune system health, with research suggesting that it may provide protection against certain types of respiratory infection.

  • Bifidobacterium breve. This is another species of Bifidobacterium that appears to have antimicrobial traits, with research suggesting it might reduce the severity of inflammatory bowel disease in adults and improve gut health in children.

  • Bifidobacterium longum. This species of Bifidobacterium is found inside your digestive system, where it’s one of the most common bacterial species. Research suggests that it may have antioxidant properties.

How to Compare Probiotic Supplements

Most probiotic supplements contain a blend of different bacterial strains, often in vastly different concentrations. When you’re comparing probiotic supplements, look for:

  • Specific strains of bacteria that match your needs. To verify that a supplement is a good choice for your health needs, check its label to ensure it contains viable bacteria that offer real digestive health benefits.

  • Shelf life and storage requirements. Probiotic supplements have varying shelf lives, and some products have specific storage requirements (for example, they may need to be stored in your refrigerator).

  • Colony forming units (CFUs). This refers to the amount of alive, viable bacteria that can be found in a supplement. Research suggests that supplements should contain at least one million CFUs of probiotic bacteria per gram (or milliliter) to have significant effects.

  • A good reputation and customer reviews. Many supplement brands offer probiotics and digestive health supplements. If possible, try to check customer reviews and other feedback before choosing a specific brand or probiotic product. 

Other Ways to Improve Your Gut Microbiota

In addition to using a probiotic supplement, making simple changes to your habits and lifestyle could help to improve your gut microbiota and promote healthy digestion. Try the approaches below to stimulate healthy bacteria growth and assist your digestive system. 

Eat a Balanced, Healthy Diet

One of the best ways to maintain healthy gut bacteria is to eat a balanced diet rich in nutritious foods. Try to prioritize healthy options such as fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources when you choose ingredients, all while minimizing junk foods.

Most naturally fermented foods contain probiotic bacteria that can improve your gut microbiota. Popular fermented foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, sourdough bread, miso and drinks such as kombucha tea.

While many probiotic foods appear to be helpful for gut health, clinical research on their exact benefits is limited. As such, fermented foods shouldn’t be thought of as proven treatments for any specific digestive issues or diseases.

Avoid Overusing Antibiotics

Antibiotics are medications that work in the body to kill bacteria or to prevent their growth and spread. They’re commonly used to treat bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs), skin infections such as cellulitis and certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

It’s important to use antibiotics as prescribed if you have an infection, but it’s also important not to overuse or abuse oral antibiotics, as this may affect your beneficial gut bacteria.

Overusing antibiotic treatment can also cause certain types of bacteria to change and develop resistance to antibiotics, which can make treating infections more challenging.

If you’re prescribed any type of oral antibiotic, use it exactly as prescribed. Make sure to totally finish your course of antibiotics, even if you feel better early. Never save antibiotics for use at a later date or give them to other people.

detox gut health probiotic

a probiotic that gently cleanses and rebalances the digestive system

Get Expert Help With Digestive Issues

Although we still don’t know the full effects of probiotic supplements, some research suggests that they may offer real benefits for your digestive system and general wellbeing.

However, probiotic supplements aren’t medications, and they shouldn’t be viewed as replacements for visiting your healthcare provider or using evidence-based medicine if you have a digestive disorder. 

If you have an upset stomach, diarrhea or other digestive system issues, you can access help with a US-licensed healthcare provider from home using our online primary care services

Not only can your healthcare provider talk to you about your symptoms, but they can also provide actionable treatment advice and, if appropriate, prescribe medication that you can pick up from your local pharmacy. 

17 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Reid, G., Gadir, A.A. & Dhir, R. (2019). Probiotics: Reiterating What They Are and What They Are Not. Frontiers in Microbiology. 10, 424. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6425910/
  2. Probiotics: What You Need To Know. (2019, August). Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
  3. Mohajeri, M. H., et al. (2018). The role of the microbiome for human health: from basic science to clinical applications. European Journal of Nutrition. 57 (Suppl 1), 1-14. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962619/
  4. Kechagia, M., et al. (2013). Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review. ISRN Nutrition. 481651. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045285/
  5. Lactobacillus. (2021, June 17). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/790.html
  6. Sazawal, S., et al. (2006, June). Efficacy of probiotics in prevention of acute diarrhoea: a meta-analysis of masked, randomised, placebo-controlled trials. 6 (6), 374-382. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16728323/
  7. Sinn, D.H., et al. (2008, October). Therapeutic effect of Lactobacillus acidophilus-SDC 2012, 2013 in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 53 (10), 2714-2718. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18274900/
  8. Nikawa, H., et al. (2004, September 1). Lactobacillus reuteri in bovine milk fermented decreases the oral carriage of mutans streptococci. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 95 (2), 219-223. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15282133/
  9. Bifidobacteria. (2021, June 17). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/891.html
  10. Jungersen, M., et al. (2014, June). The Science behind the Probiotic Strain Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12®. 2 (2), 92–110. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5029483/
  11. Cionci, N.B., Baffoni, L., Gaggìa, F. & Di Gioia, D. (2018, November). Therapeutic Microbiology: The Role of Bifidobacterium breve as Food Supplement for the Prevention/Treatment of Paediatric Diseases. 10 (11), 1723. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6265827/
  12. Gagnon, M., et al. (2015). Bioaccessible Antioxidants in Milk Fermented by Bifidobacterium longum subsp. longum Strains. BioMed Research International. 169381. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4352726/
  13. Marinova, V.Y., et al. (2019). Microbiological quality of probiotic dietary supplements. Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment. 33 (1), 834-841. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13102818.2019.1621208
  14. Dimidi, E., Cox, S.R., Rossi, M. & Whelan, K. (2019, August). Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients. 11 (8), 1806. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723656/
  15. Antibiotics. (2022, January 14). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/antibiotics.html
  16. Ramirez, J., et al. (2020). Antibiotics as Major Disruptors of Gut Microbiota. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 10, 572912. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7732679/
  17. Antibiotic Resistance. (2022, March 7). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/antibioticresistance.html

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.