Clearing Up the Confusion: A Guide to Buying Quality Probiotics

Wading through the world of probiotic supplements can be very confusing.

As you’ve probably noticed through your own research, prices fluctuate between $20 and $80, ingredients can be completely different between two supplements and it can be nearly impossible to tell which of them is the “best one”.

Over the past few years we’ve written dozens of reviews for probiotics and we’ve realized choosing the right supplement for yourself can be tough. There are so many different names, ingredients and prices. This got us thinking:

  • What makes a good probiotic supplement?
  • What types of probiotics can you expect to find when you decide to buy?
  • Does it pay to buy an expensive probiotic?
  • What brands get the best ratings from consumers?
  • Are there any side effects?

We’re going to answer these questions over the next few minutes.

How You Can Determine if a Probiotic is Worth Buying

We think it’s important to start with the basics before we actually get into specific brands and prices. So, we’ve created a few questions here to help you prepare yourself for your next purchase.

For the sake of example, we’re going to mention a few probiotics we’ve reviewed on our site. Later in this article we’ll do a more in-depth review of whether they’re worth their price tag.

Is there a bunch of extra stuff crammed in the pill?

It’s important to look at what other ingredients are included in the probiotic. ProbioSlim, for example, includes green tea leaf extract, kiwi extract, fig extract and papaya extract. While the company says these ingredients act as prebiotics (food for probiotics, basically), we’re a bit skeptical because we don’t know what amounts are present in the pill and how well they act as food for probiotics.

Based on our numerous probiotics reviews, we think it’s best you stick with supplements that have a long list of probiotic strains instead of extracts and other things claimed to be food sources. This ensures you’re paying for the stuff that really helps you (probiotics) as opposed to experimental or unproven ingredients.

Is there a list of probiotics on the bottle?

We love it when supplement companies include a list of ingredients on their bottles and website. We feel this expresses a level of transparency that’s necessary when you’re buying health-related products.

So, when we see a company like Probiotic America list the bacteria strains included in their supplement, it makes us happy. ProbioSlim, TruBiotics, Essential Cultures and MetaBiotic also list at least some of the strains in their supplements.

Does the bottle list the potency (CFUs) of its probiotics?

Think of CFUs (colony forming units) as the number of people helping you move. The more there are, the easier the job is, right? Same thing with probiotics. Their effectiveness increases when there are more CFUs in each pill.

Knowing the CFUs in your supplement helps you understand the potency of the product you’re buying, and should be a factor in your purchasing decision.

Ideally, says SHAPE magazine contributor Dr. Mike Rousell, your supplement should have 20-30 billion CFUs.

Essential Cultures contains, according to their site, 30 billion CFUs. Not bad! Probiotic America also makes the 30 billion CFUs claim. Other supplements on our site like MetaBiotic and Whole Body Keybiotics don’t list their CFUs.

What types of probiotics can you expect to find when you decide to buy?

As you’re venturing through the probiotics world, you’re bound to see enough super-long bacteria names to make your head spin. Some of the most popular probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Probiotics America, for example, includes five different Lactobacillus strains and four different Bifidobacterium strains.

Part of the reason why these particular groups of bacteria are popular is because they’ve been proven in certain studies to fight diarrhea and constipation, two common ailments.

If you’re ready to buy a particular probiotic but you want to check the bacteria in it first, WebMD is a great resource. In fact, here’s a link to their Lactobacillus page; it includes excellent information about what it is, what it does, as well as any side effects.

Does it pay to buy an expensive probiotic?

Usually, the rule of thumb with any consumer product you buy is that you get what you pay for. We wanted to put that to the test by taking a look at the prices and ingredients of the 10 most popular probiotics on our site.

And by “most popular,” we mean the probiotics that have gotten the most reviews.

The top 10 probiotics on Highya cost an average of $39.66 and they contain an average of about six probiotics strains.

The most expensive supplement in this group is ProbioSlim, which costs $69.99 and contains the probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans, but there’s no mention how many CFUs it contains. When we think about the cost of ProbioSlim and the ingredients it offers, we feel as though they’re charging you a lot of money for a relatively limited amount of probiotics.

But what about a probiotic that’s a little cheaper than ProbioSlim? To answer that, we looked at Probiotic America, the highest-rated probiotic on our site with at least 25 reviews. Probiotic America will set you back $47, but contains 15 probiotic strains…14 more than what’s included in ProbioSlim. We think that Probiotic America is a decent choice for a supplement because you’re getting 15 probiotics at a concentration of 30 billion CFUs. It packs a pretty good punch for the price.

How do these products compare to a “cheap” option? Turns out there isn’t much difference between ProbioSlim and TruBiotics, a supplement available at some drug stores (Walgreens) that goes for between $15 and $20. TruBiotics contains two probiotic strains, doubling what’s found in the $70-a-bottle ProbioSlim. We think TruBiotics has a nice price tag, but it lacks the CFU punch (1.5 billion) in more expensive bottles.  

To find a few more cheap options, we went outside of the Highya top-10 and took a peek at a pair of popular probiotics from Walgreen’s and Wal-Mart.

At Walgreens.com, their in-house brand of probiotics, Super Probiotic Digestive Support Capsules, has 20 billion CFUs per pill of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactic. At a regular price of $29.99 for a two-month supply, it’s more affordable and potent than some of the options we mentioned above. It also has a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars from 33 reviews.

WalMart’s Equate digestive probiotic comes at a cost of $24.99 for a six-week supply. Each pill includes 5 million CFUs and four probiotics, though Bifidobacterium infantis was the only ingredient listed on the supplement’s web page. This product costs less than the Walgreen’s probiotic and Probiotic America, but we find it lacking the CFU punch found in other probiotics. It has a 4.5 rating out of 5 stars.

So how do all these compare to each other? Is it worth it to buy an expensive probiotic? Based on the five examples we showed you, we don’t think you need to fork over a lot of money for your next probiotic.

But our opinion is just part of a bigger picture. What are actual customers saying about some of the supplements we mentioned?

How are consumers rating some of these probiotic options?

Highya is home to user-generated reviews and ratings of the products we write about … in this case, probiotics. Each reviewer gives a rating between one and five stars, which are then tallied together, averaged, and displayed underneath the review.

Probiotic America is currently the highest-rated probiotic supplement on our site, with a rating of 4.5 stars from 258 readers. Of those 258, a whopping 89% said they would recommend the product to a friend.

On the other hand, ProbioSlim, the most expensive supplement on our site, has a 2.2-star rating out of 276 customer reviews. Only 38% of those reviewers said they’d recommend ProbioSlim.

Walgreen’s Super Probiotic has a rating of 4.9 stars from 33 reviews, while Walmart’s Equate probiotic has 4.5 stars from 16 reviews.

Based on user reviews, pricing, CFUs and other factors, we think Probiotics America and Walgreen’s Super Biotic offer consumers the most bang for their buck.

No matter how much I spend, are side effects a possibility?

Yes, there’s a chance that you could experience side effects. But before we get into a few of them, we want to remind you that, in general, probiotics are safe.

Because they alter the balance of bacteria in your stomach and intestines, some people experience gassiness and bloating in the first couple of days of taking probiotics. If these symptoms last longer than a couple of days, stop taking them and consult your doctor. In fact, we always recommend talking with your physician before adding probiotics to your diet.

Also, there have been cases where people in hospitals with compromised immune systems experienced sepsis (infection of the blood), but those cases are rare.

If you’d like to know more about the side effects and safety of probiotics, take a look at an article we recently wrote titled, “The Side Effects of Probiotics: What to Watch for, When to Talk to Your Doctor and When You Should Say No”.

Looking ahead into the future of probiotics

This article is the last installment of our five-part series on probiotics. We think it’s a fitting end because you’ve probably come here looking for insight about which probiotics give you the most bang for your buck. And based on everything we’ve discussed, you should now have a solid idea of which steps to take next.

Our first four parts cover the basics of probiotics, who can take them and where to find them, their safety and side effects and whether or not they can help you lose weight.

After working through all these different areas of the probiotics world, we’ve come to some pretty solid conclusions:

  • Probiotics have legitimate studies backing up their helpfulness for digestive issues
  • They are, for the most part, a safe way to boost your digestive health
  • Like many supplements, they have different effects on different people
  • Read the labels and the websites to verify important information like CFUs, bacteria strains, etc.
  • Don’t buy into the probiotics weight-loss hype
  • Always talk with your doctor before starting them.

Probiotics are an exciting new area of study and we’re looking forward to what the research world discovers in the next few years. In the meantime, you can always head to Highya for information about probiotics as well as reviews by your fellow consumers about supplements.


J.R. Duren

J.R. is an award winning journalist who uncovers the hard truths about personal finance, health and fitness through in-depth research and interviews with experts.


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