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How to Use Probiotics Safely:  How to choose the right probiotic for your health. 

How to Use Probiotics Safely:  How to choose the right probiotic for your health. 

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can improve gut health, support the immune system, and enhance mood and well-being. However, not all probiotics are created equal. The market is flooded with a wide range of probiotic products, varying in quality, efficacy, and safety. 

Understanding how to use probiotics safely and the differences between generic probiotics and those with specific, researched strains can help you make an informed decision.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms, primarily bacteria or yeast, that provide health benefits by influencing the gut microbiome.  Probiotics are also found in fermented foods like good quality yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, as well as in probiotics supplements.

Common benefits of probiotics include:

·      Better digestive health

·      Enhanced immune function

·      Reduced symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

·      Improve dmental health by influencing the gut-brain axis

·      Improved sink health by influencing the gut-skin axis

·      Prevention and treatment of diarrhea, especially during antibiotic use

Different strains of probiotics have different functions and it is essential to choose the product that contains strains appropriate for your specific health needs, some examples include:

To support your digestive health:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG: Known for reducing diarrhea, particularly in children and anyone taking antibiotics.
  • Bifidobacterium lactis: Helps with general digestive health and can alleviate symptoms of IBS. 
  • Saccharomyces boulardii: A beneficial yeast that helps prevent and treat diarrhea, especially antibiotic-associated and traveller’s diarrhea.

For Immune Support:

  • Lactobacillus casei: Supports immune function and can reduce the duration of respiratory infections.
  • Bifidobacterium longum: Enhances immune response and may help reduce the incidence of the common cold.

To support mood and reduce anxiety:  

  • Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum: These strains have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, likely due to their role in the gut-brain axis.

Women’s Health:

  • Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactobacillus rhamnosus: Effective in maintaining vaginal health by preventing infections such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.

Skin Health:

  • Lactobacillus paracasei: Can improve skin hydration and reduce sensitivity, beneficial for those with conditions like eczema.
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG: May help reduce the severity of eczema in children.

Weight Management:

  • Lactobacillus gasseri: Has been associated with reduction of abdominal fat and body weight in some studies.
  • Bifidobacterium breve: May support weight management and metabolic health.

So what is the differences between cheap probiotics and practitioner quality probiotics

 Essentially the difference is quality, quantity and research.  You get what you pay for with probiotics.

Cheaper, generic probiotics contain lower-quality ingredients and fewer live microorganisms.  If your probiotics contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for example, this is a generic variety of this strain.  It is not researched and there is no quality control.    

Specific strain probiotics on the other hand are more expensive due to higher quality of ingredients and extensive research, this research is undertaken on the specific strain, for example Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (ATCC 53103).  These numbers following the name refer to the specific strain.  This ensures the products has been well researched.  This particular strain has been shown to reduce infant colic. 


Selecting a High-Quality Probiotic

Look for Clinically Researched Strains:  Choose products that list specific strains on the label and provide information about the research supporting their efficacy.  If you google the strain name and numbers you will find the PubMed published research on these strains.  

Check the CFU Count:  CFU (colony-forming units) indicate the number of live microorganisms in the product. Higher CFU counts generally offer more benefits, but this should be balanced with the specific needs and recommended dosages.

Ensure Proper Storage:  Some probiotics require refrigeration to maintain potency. Check the storage instructions and ensure the product has been handled correctly from production to purchase.  Unfortunately many retailer don’t keep products at correct temperatures, purchasing from a practitioner helps reduce the risk of the product being incorrectly stored. 

Review Expiration Dates:  Probiotics are live organisms, and their potency decreases over time. Ensure the product is within its expiration date for maximum effectiveness.

Read Labels for Additives:  Avoid products with unnecessary additives, fillers, or artificial ingredients that can detract from the probiotic's effectiveness and safety.  So cheaper probiotics will use excipients like talc and prebiotic fibres to cut costs.  These items don’t need to be included on the label, you can find this information on the TGA website.  


Fridge vs. Shelf-Stable Probiotics

When choosing probiotics, one important consideration is whether to opt for fridge-stored or shelf-stable varieties. 

Fridge-stored probiotics typically contain live cultures that are sensitive to heat and moisture, requiring refrigeration to maintain their potency and viability. These probiotics often include strains that are known to be more fragile, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The cooling environment helps preserve the live bacteria, ensuring they remain effective until consumption. 

On the other hand, shelf-stable probiotics are formulated to remain effective without refrigeration, thanks to advanced manufacturing techniques like freeze-drying and the use of resilient strains.  Some have storage bottles that help reduce moisture and enhance their life.   However, it's essential to check for third-party testing and reputable brands to ensure these probiotics maintain their claimed potency and efficacy despite the lack of refrigeration.  As a practitioner there are only a few products that I would choose without refrigeration. 


Using probiotics safely and effectively involves understanding the differences between generic, cheaper options and high-quality, specific strain probiotics. While cheaper probiotics might be more accessible, they often lack the rigorous research and specific health benefits associated with targeted strains. 

I would also like to add probiotics should only be used short term, they don’t actually stay in the gut, but they have the power to influence the gut microbiome.  For a more permanent solution you need to address the underlying cause of the dysbiosis and use food and prebiotics strains to maintain health.  

Negative side effects of probiotics.   Like all supplements it is important to use probiotics under the care of a health care professional.   Using them incorrectly can have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. For example some probiotics can diminish other good bacteria needed for your health and wellbeing.  

Consulting a healthcare provider, choosing clinically researched strains, and following proper usage guidelines can help you optimize your probiotic supplementation for better health outcomes. By making informed choices, you can harness the full potential of probiotics to support your digestive health, immune function, and overall well-being.

If you would like to know more about the role of probiotics for your health book an appointment with one of our naturopaths to discuss your health goals and learn what products are right for you. 

Posted on 17 June 2024
Author:Jean Jarrett
Tags:Preventative medicineChildren's healthGut healthMental healthImmune System

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