Have you been struggling with the symptoms of a leaky gut? Constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, belly pain, depressed mood, poor concentration, acne, immune imbalances, weight gain. It can make your life absolutely miserable. Anyone can totally understand why you’ve been on the lookout — or maybe even the hunt — for something, anything, to make you feel better.
One suggestion you keep seeing pop up is the idea of taking a probiotic supplement. It supposedly really helps! You’ve been curious about trying one, but you’ve just have had too many questions to be able to take the plunge and give it a shot. What are probiotic supplements, exactly? How are they supposed to work? Do they work? If so, how on Earth do you choose which one to buy? Does it even matter which one you buy?
The good news is: you and your curiosity have come to the right place! Here, we’re going to get to answer each and every one of these questions for you. Let’s start from the top!
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What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are all the bacteria, viruses and fungi that are able to make you healthier by growing in or on you. Really! It seems odd, but some microorganisms are actually able to make you healthy when you’re infected with them, rather than make you sick.
What makes these microorganisms different from the little buggers that give you pneumonia and sinus infections? You grew up with them. See, at birth, your body became coated with a layer of microorganisms. Almost all of them came from your mom, your family’s skin and your mom’s breast milk. Interestingly, your mom and family got these same microorganisms the exact same way when they were born, and their families before them, and so on and so forth, as far back as we can go.
What this means is that humans and these microorganisms have had a good long time (you know, few million years) to get to know each other. In that time, we’ve worked out a pretty neat deal. Our bodies provide them a cozy place to live and a constant supply of food. They keep other microorganisms we don’t know from setting up a home and provide our cells with a variety of helpful chemicals. It is this unique relationship built up over millions of generations that allows this specific group of probiotic microorganisms to make you healthier — they are just doing their jobs!
Why Use Probiotic Supplements as a Leaky Gut Cure?
What’s any of this got to do with a leaky gut? Well, it turns out one of the most important jobs of the microorganisms that naturally live in your gut is to support your intestinal cells in forming strong bonds with one another. If something happens to these natural gut microorganisms — either they start dying off or are otherwise driven out of balance (a condition known as dysbiosis) — your intestinal cells can start losing this ability to form tight bonds. If the bonds to become weak enough, physical gaps can begin opening up between the cells. Once these gaps form, you have a leaky gut and can start experiencing the miserable symptoms!
How should probiotic supplements help here? Probiotic supplements contain purified, living strains of natural gut microorganisms involved in helping your intestinal cells fuse together properly. The theory is that, by taking these supplements, you can literally establish new colonies of these helpful microorganisms directly in your intestine. Once established, they can grow, replenish the declining populations, restore a healthy balance, and reverse the underlying dysbiosis entirely. With the dysbiosis gone, your intestinal cells regain their ability to form tight bonds with one another. They can close up the holes in your intestinal wall and heal your leaky gut.
Do Probiotics Help with the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut?
Does this theory hold up in reality? The short answer is: yes. Clinical studies have shown that probiotic supplementation is effective at reversing dysbiosis, closing up the holes of a leaky gut and improving the associated symptoms.
That is terrific news if you are suffering the awful symptoms of leaky gut syndrome! There is some real hope for relief! The only question remaining, then, is: how do you choose which probiotic supplement you should buy? There are tons on the market, after all.
Luckily, research actually gives you some pretty clear guidance here. There have been relatively few probiotic strains and supplement formulations that have been directly tested in humans for treating dysbiosis and even fewer were shown to be effective. Restricting yourself to supplements that contain strains and dosages that have been proven effective narrows down your choices from dozens or hundreds to just a handful. When you take a critical look at this handful and calculate in practical considerations including ease of use, palatability, and affordability, 5 clear front-runners emerge. Let’s take a closer look at these products, starting with the one that ranked highest across our evaluation criteria and working our way down!
Top 5 Best Probiotic Supplements for Curing a Leaky Gut
Topping our list is the Align Probiotic Supplement. Align contains a patented strain of naturally occuring gut bacteria called Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. In clinical studies using dosages between 100 million to 10 billion live B. infantis 35624 per day, individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (a condition strongly associated with a leaky gut) saw significant improvements in pain, bloating and constipation within 1-2 months. The commercial brand contains 1 billion live B. infantis bacteria, falling directly in this therapeutic range.
Align comes as easy to take capsules. It is competitively priced, falling squarely in the middle of the prices for the products listed here.
What shoots this supplement to the very top of our list is user satisfaction. A whopping 92% of customers who reviewed the product on Amazon gave the product a 5-star rating. All of the positive reviews report improvement in their digestive system. Many don’t go into detail, but several mentions specific improvements in pain, bloating and constipation. One review mentions an improvement in acid reflux symptoms and another intestinal blockage problems. A large percentage of reviews mention that this supplement was specifically recommended to them by their doctors. Multiple reviews praised the price of the product compared to other supplements.
The 8% of reviews that gave the product less than 3-stars reported little or no improvement in their symptoms. There were no reports of side effects or problems with the product.
A potential downside of this supplement is that it does contain milk. If you are allergic to milk or adhere to a vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons, this product may not be for you.
Coming in second on our list is Florastor. Florastor contains a different patented probiotic fungal strain called Saccharomyces boulardii lyo CNCM I-745. Clinical studies have found S. boulardii lyo CNCM 1-745 to be effective at restoring a health balance of gut bacteria following episodes of diarrhea, especially if the episodes were caused by a bacterial infection or antibiotic use. If your digestive symptoms started after a stomach bug or treatment with antibiotics, this may be a good choice for you.
The individual, easy-to-swallow capsules contain 250 mg of the probiotic bacteria. The recommended dosage is 2 capsules per day. This entire range (250-500 mg) was found safe and effective in the aforementioned studies.
Florastor is one of the most budget-friendly of the products on our list, coming in below all but Culturelle.
Though not quite as well-reviewed as Align, Florastor users were still overwhelmingly happy with the product. Of the more than 670 reviews on Amazon, 82% gave the product a full 5-stars and an additional 11% gave it 4. Most people reported significant improvements in digestive symptoms, including bloating and abdominal pain and a couple specifically mentioned improvements in irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. A few stated that the product provided them great protection from side effects of antibiotics.
Negative reviews of Florastor primarily complained that they were mistakenly charged for 100 capsules but only received 50 and one stated a problem with delivery (the package had been previously opened). A few reported side effects — such as stomach ache, bloating, diarrhea and lethargy — while others simply experienced no improvement.
Florastor does contain lactose, so it’s inappropriate for those with severe lactose intolerance or ethical vegans. It also contains yeast, which some people may be sensitive to.
Culturelle capsules contain a patented bacterial strain called Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. Meta-analyses examining multiple studies using this probiotic found that L. rhamnosus GG is effective at helping ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, particularly in children, and moderate evidence that it may be useful in preventing diarrhea from antibiotics. Each capsule contains 10 billion live bacteria, which falls at the high end of the range of doses tested in clinical trials (3-10 billion).
These bacteria come mixed with 200 mg of inulin, a proven prebiotic.
Culturelle is the most affordable of the probiotics on our list. It only makes the number 3 spot, however, because it has lower customer satisfaction than the last two products. Only 72% of customers gave the product a 5-star rating on Amazon, though an additional 19% gave it 4-stars. Most reviews seemed fairly blasse-fair about the product, with many simply indicating that the product just worked as intended. Few showed extreme enthusiasm. A few did comment on the budget-friendly price.
Those that gave the product less positive reviews just stated that other products worked better for them. Interestingly, no review mentioned any side effects with the product at all.
This product does not contain any lactose, milk or yeast. The ingredient list contains no animal products at all, which makes it suitable for vegans.
VSL#3 capsules contain 112.5 billion live bacteria from 8 unique probiotic strains. This unique mixture and has been directly tested in a variety of clinical studies had has been shown effective in treating and preventing digestive disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and pouchitis.
The majority of reviews on Amazon give the product 5-stars. Essentially, the positive reviews point to significant improvement in their digestive symptoms. This is even the case with chronic, serious and severe digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
VSL#3 is the most expensive of the products on our list, likely because it contains the greatest types of probiotics in one capsule. This didn’t bother many of the people who gave the product 5-stars. Most customers say it is well worth the money. For the smaller percentages who didn’t see great improvements in their health, however, the price was a real down-side. Several customers said they felt they had wasted their money.
The most significant complaint about the product, however, was that you have to refrigerat it at all times. Based on the reviews, it appears that this leads to shipping problems on a regular basis. The product comes with an ice pack, but if shipping takes longer than anticipated, or it is very hot outside, the pack can melt. This seems to lead to unusable products that the company will not replace. Asking for overnight or priority shipping, however, may make this less likely to happen.
Gastrus chewable tablets from BioGaia round out our top 5 list. Each tangerine-flavored tablet contains 100 million live bacteria of two different strains of Lactobacillus reuteri: ATCC PTA 6475 and DSM 17938. This is corresponds to the dose of other strands of L. reuteri effectively used in small clinical trials in humans.
There is ever growing evidence from multiple lines of study (cells, animals, human models) that show L. reuteri species are effective at treating dysbiosis. The amount of clinical data is not as strong as with the strains from the other products here.
That being said, the majority of customers who bought Gastrus reported it helped them and 66% gave it a full 5-star review. Many actually reported that this is the only probiotic that has worked for them. Specific symptoms reported improving included bowel movements, gas and acid reflux. A couple of people also reported improved anxiety.
Of those who gave the product a negative review, most reported that they did not like the tangerine taste. Some also reported side effects including worsening, constipation, hair loss, dizziness, and fatigue. A couple of reviews also mentioned the price as a negative. (Gastrus ranks second on our list for the price — just behind VSL#3.)
Gastrus’ packaging lists no animal products in its ingredients, suggesting it may be a good option for ethical vegetarians and vegans. The tablets are also free of common allergens.
Take Home Message
The best probiotic supplements can help reverse dysbiosis and the miserable symptoms of a leaky gut! There are several clinically proven, effective probiotic supplements available on the market that can help you recolonize your gut with natural microorganisms. Each product has its own unique probiotic and practical strengths and weaknesses, but all of them help the majority of people who try them. Hopefully, this list will help you find your perfect probiotic