Millions of bacteria have set up camp in our bodies. Tiny living organisms live on our skin and in our noses, mouths and guts. Don’t be alarmed. This is perfectly normal and really quite healthy if we can boost the good bacteria we play host to.
Good gut bacteria are essential. Dr Janice Taylor, a senior lecturer and the programme lead for food science courses at Glasgow Caledonian University, describes them as our “metabolic sous chefs” as they help us digest the fibre we eat and synthesise crucial vitamins. They are also vital in developing and maintaining our immune system, she says.
“In terms of a healthy body and mind, it is about having a diverse microbial community in the gut,” Dr Taylor adds. “Imbalances can cause inflammation, and the wiping out of the ‘healthy’ bacteria can impact both our physical and mental health. Imbalances have also been linked to several chronic diseases including obesity and type 2 diabetes, and studies have shown that healthy gut function is linked to a normal central nervous system.”
A healthy balanced diet should provide your gut with all the fuel it needs. Probiotics, the live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, are beneficial to gut health, occur naturally in foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and yoghurts containing live cultures, Dr Taylor says. Meanwhile, prebiotics, the fuel for our good gut bacteria, take the form of dietary fibre found in fruits such as bananas, vegetables including chicory, legumes and other plant foods such as flax seeds.
But if your diet leaves much to be desired, supplements can give a helping hand. Dr Taylor advises looking for those with at least a billion organisms – called colony-forming units or CFU on the label – when it comes to probiotics. And they should contain a variety of different strains of bacteria, including lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, she says. Meanwhile, prebiotics should be a source of fibre, so check for inulin or fructooligosaccharides (FOS).
Armed with Dr Taylor’s sound advice, we set out to find some of the best probiotic and prebiotic supplements. We considered the strains of bacteria, the CFU count and variety of ingredients to find a diverse range of products suitable for people who feel their diet is not quite up to scratch on the gut health front. It is time to show your tummy some love.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
The best probiotic and prebiotic supplements for 2021 are:
Best overall – Garden of Life raw microbiome ultimate care: £30.79, gardenoflife.co.uk
Best for women – Wellgard Vitaflora 20 billion CFU probiotics for women: £12.74, wellgard.co.uk
Best for kids – So Perf Kids Peruvian cacao and coconut bars: £26.20, soperf.com
Best for taking probiotics with other vitamins – Indi body: £45, indisupplements.com
Best for when on a course of antibiotics – Bio-Kult boosted: £24.98, bio-kult.com
Best for combining prebiotics and probiotics – The Nue Co prebiotic + probiotic: £45,thenueco.com
Best for people with digestive system problems – Inessa advanced biotic complex: £38.99, inessawellness.com
Best for people with allergies – Performance Lab prebiotic, one month supply: £29, performancelab.com
Best for supporting mental wellbeing – Kalla for relief, 30-day supply: £49, kalla.com
Garden of Life raw microbiome ultimate care, 30 capsules
With 100 billion CFU and 34 strains of good bacteria, including both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, one capsule a day of this supplement guarantees a high-potency dose of raw probiotics for gut health. The formula is created with Bulgarian yoghurt and wild kefir, and each pill contains 45mg of raw eastern European fruits and vegetables, including cherry, plum and carrot. The blend is classed as raw because it is made in conditions below 4C, which means the bacteria cultures arrive alive and stay that way until the expiry date. This supplement does contain milk, so it is not suitable for vegans or people who are lactose intolerant, but it is gluten-free.
Buy now £30.79, gardenoflife.co.uk
Wellgard Vitaflora 20 billion CFU probiotics for women, 30 capsules
Best: For women
Don’t be fooled by the incredibly reasonable price tag; this supplement means business. Wellgard’s Vitaflora is specially designed for women, and one capsule a day delivers 20 billion CFU from three strains of live bacteria, including lactobacillus plantarum and bifidobacterium animalis to help support healthy urinary tract bacteria. You can be confident of this British-made product’s efficacy because it is clinically proven to target intimate flora imbalance issues in just a fortnight of use.
Buy now £12.74, wellgard.co.uk
So Perf Kids Peruvian cacao and coconut bars, pack of eight
Best: For kids
Getting children to eat healthily or take supplements to make up for a shortfall in nutrients is rarely easy. That is where these bars come in. They are a tasty way to ensure your little ones get both prebiotics and probiotics and a host of other health-boosting ingredients. Each sticky sweet plant-based bar is cold-pressed and made from fruits, nuts and seeds. They contain 1 billion cultures and a third of the recommended daily intake of fibre and the antioxidants found in raw Peruvian cacao, which support brain health. Parents will also be pleased to hear there is no added sugar. The bars are pretty pricey, at more than £3 each, but if you’re struggling to get your kids to eat a diet naturally high in prebiotics and probiotics, they could be an answer to your prayers.
Buy now £26.20, Soperf.com
Indi body, 30 servings
Best: For taking probiotics with other vitamins
Nobody wants to be taking so many vitamin capsules that they rattle. This powder supplement from Indi combines lactobacillus acidophilus probiotic cultures and prebiotic fibre from chicory root with vitamins and other immune-boosting ingredients in a single daily drink. Alongside the gut health elements are acai, maca, reishi mushroom, moringa and purple carrot to provide antioxidants, vitamins D2, B3, B12, B6, B1 and B2, folic acid and biotin. In addition, the blend supports healthy digestion, stabilises mood and reduces fatigue. We like that you can mix this supplement with plant-based milk to create a healthful drink and it is suitable for most people because it is vegan and gluten, dairy and soya-free. There are also no artificial flavours, preservatives or bulking agents, and it contains no added sugar.
Buy now £45.00, Indisupplements.com
Bio-Kult boosted, 30 capsules
Best: For when on a course of antibiotics
The advanced multi-action, extra strength formulation of this supplement promises not only to support gut health but also help keep your immune system in top form. It contains 14 strains of live bacteria, including lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and just one capsule a day provides 8 billion CFU. The additional benefit of 100 per cent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 is excellent news for immunity. This is also particularly good for taking when on a course of antibiotics to build up good gut bacteria. The recommendation is to take one capsule daily at a different time of day to the antibiotic dose and continue for at least two weeks after the antibiotic course has finished. Interestingly, the bacteria are cryo-protected during the freeze-drying process to aid their survival through our stomach acid to the gut.
Buy now £24.98, Bio-kult.com
The Nue Co prebiotic + probiotic, 30 servings
Best: For combining prebiotics and probiotics
Unusually, this supplement contains spores as opposed to live bacteria. The Nue Co says this means the 15 billion spores per dose don’t start working until they reach your small intestine, giving them a better chance of survival as they move through your body. As well as the probiotic bacteria, these two-a-day capsules also contain prebiotic inulin fibre from Jerusalem artichoke root to aid digestion and reduce bloating. This is suitable for vegans, and those that are keen to take it regularly can sign up for a monthly subscription that gives a 20 per cent discount.
Buy now £45.00, Thenueco.com
Inessa advanced biotic complex, 30 capsules
Best: For people with digestive system problems
The first few days on prebiotics or probiotics can initially trigger unpleasant digestion symptoms in some people. This product has been specifically designed for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (IBD), which Inessa’s founder, registered nutritional therapist Aliza Marogy, was diagnosed with as a teenager. Each one-a-day time-release capsule contains 50 billion organisms and combines seven probiotic strains studied in IBS and IBD with saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic yeast shown to reduce inflammation of the colon to soothe the gut. The advanced biotic complex is particularly useful to help speed up recovery from food poisoning and stomach bugs. The award-winning supplement also contains no prebiotics, so it is suitable for those who follow a low-Fodmap diet, and it is Vegan Society registered.
Buy now £38.99, Inessawellness.com
Performance Lab prebiotic, one month supply
Best: For people with allergies
This probiotic-boosting product features inulin-FOS from chicory root to nourish your existing probiotic colony and support digestive health. Daily use – three capsules with your first meal of the day – can support heart health by regulating bad cholesterol absorption, bone health by enhancing calcium absorption and even help maintain a healthy weight because inulin-FOS swells in the stomach, blocking the hunger hormone and promoting appetite control. Even the plant-based capsule shells are 100 per cent natural, prebiotic infused and easy to digest as they are made from pullulan (fermented tapioca). In addition, this prebiotic is allergen-free and suitable for vegans, making it perfect for anyone needing a lift.
Buy now £29.00, Performancelab.com
Kalla for relief, 30-day supply
Best: For supporting mental wellbeing
Poor gut health can impact mental wellbeing, but these potent probiotic powders have been specifically formulated to target damage to the body caused by long-term stress. The supplement contains live lactobacillus plantarum, which has been proven to survive the digestive tract and colonise the gut with helpful bacteria. The powders, packaged into single doses and numbered so you can keep track of your progress, are easy to mix into water or a smoothie or take sprinkled over unheated food. As well as “for relief”, Kalla makes two other types of probiotic powders with targeted formulas for different needs. “For repair” relieves symptoms of IBS, bloating, gas and stomach pain, while “for immune health” aims to reduce the frequency and severity of common colds. We like that the brand takes sustainability seriously. The cardboard outer packaging is 100 per cent recyclable, and there is a return scheme for the sachets, using a pre-paid envelope included in all orders so that they can be converted into plastic pellets and reimagined into new goods. The supplement is not the cheapest, but a subscription reduces the cost to £39 a month.
Launching this summer
Buy now £49.00, kalla.com
The verdict: Prebiotic and probiotic supplements
There is much to consider when looking for the right gut health supplement for your individual needs, but we think Garden of Life’s raw microbiome ultimate care is an excellent probiotic and the most potent we found, with an astonishing 100 billion CFU and 34 strains of good bacteria. For people wanting to take both prebiotics and probiotics in a single supplement, The Nue Co’s capsules are ideal, and we would recommend Performance Lab’s prebiotic for those with allergies who want to boost their existing good gut bacteria.
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