Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms. Known as your gut microbiota, these friendly bacteria and yeasts help you digest food, produce vitamins and function as a vital part of your immune system, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
While over-the-counter probiotic supplements are a popular option, probiotic consumption through foods like yogurt is one way to get more of these helpful bugs into your system from your diet. Ultimately, your choice of probiotic source may depend on your food preferences and the type of probiotic you're looking for.
Which Probiotics Are Found in Yogurt and Supplements?
A product of fermented milk, yogurt naturally contains probiotics from the species Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, according to the California Dairy Research Foundation. Additional live bacteria are commonly added to enhance yogurt's probiotic content. These same species can be found in probiotic pills.
A December 2010 study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology studied human saliva and fecal samples after subjects consumed either yogurt or probiotic pills. The researchers determined that both options provided the body with comparable amounts of microorganisms. If, however, you are looking to supplement with a probiotic strain not found in yogurt, consider taking supplements or incorporating another food sources known to contain those probiotics.
Should You Keep Your Probiotics in the Fridge?
Keeping your yogurt in the fridge is a no-brainer. But is it necessary to keep probiotic supplements in the fridge? Probiotic foods and supplements must be carefully produced and stored to reap the benefits of live microorganisms. Foods or supplements with live probiotics can have a short shelf-life and often require refrigeration. However, not all probiotics supplements require refrigeration. Check the packaging of the supplements you buy for more specific information.
Do the Good Bacteria Survive Digestion?
Milk products, including yogurt, provide a buffer against the acid in the stomach, thereby protecting these microorganisms as they make their way through the digestive tract.
Probiotic pills, on the other hand, can be encapsulated so more bugs make it through the stomach alive. Consuming coated probiotic pills with or 30 minutes before a meal offers a better chance of probiotic survival in the gut, according to a December 2011 article published in Beneficial Microbes. The authors also found that consuming probiotic capsules with some fats in your meal helps keep the microorganisms in tact.
Are Supplements or Whole Foods Better?
Emerging research suggests that food choices, however, may be superior to probiotic supplements, at least in terms of mitigating anxiety. According to Harvard Health Publishing, gut and brain health are closely related. Stress and anxiety can affect the gut, and gut health can play a role in mood.
A May 2019 review of 21 different studies published in General Psychiatry found that dietary interventions can be superior to probiotic supplements in managing anxiety. After subjects consumed certain foods (such as following a low-FODMAP plan), the researchers found that these dietary adjustments had a more positive influence on anxiety than probiotic pills.
Reading the Labels
While probiotic-rich yogurt can be a very good source of live bacteria, some yogurts are heat treated or do not contain live microorganisms. High-quality yogurts can be identified by a voluntary labeling claim indicating they contain live and active cultures, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Supplements have more label clarity, as the specific strains and dose based on colony forming units or CFUs are listed on the label. While they may be found in the over-the-counter aisle of a convenience store, probiotic supplements are not regulated by the same standards as medications. According to the NCCIH, the FDA has not approved any probiotics for treating or preventing any health conditions.
Practice Caution as Needed
Unless you have a milk allergy or a known intolerance to yogurt, eating more probiotic-rich yogurt is a relatively safe and healthful dietary change. As with any dietary supplement, speak to your doctor before starting probiotic pills, especially if you have medical concerns.
Also talk to your doctor first if you have preexisting health problems, take any prescription medications or plan to give probiotics to infants with immature immune systems. A dietitian can provide you with more information about probiotic-rich foods and ways to increase your probiotic consumption naturally.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Probiotics In Depth
- California Dairy Research Foundation: "Are all yogurts ‘probiotic yogurts’?"
- International Journal of Food Microbiology: "Persistence of probiotic strains in the gastrointestinal tract when administered as capsules, yoghurt, or cheese."
- Culturelle: "Shatter the Myths: Let’s Get Real About Probiotics"
- Beneficial Micrboes: "The impact of meals on a probiotic during transit through a model of the human upper gastrointestinal tract."
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The gut-brain connection"
- General Psychiatry: "Effects of regulating intestinal microbiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Your complete guide to choosing a yogurt to meet your needs"