(Woodpath is an education site focused exclusively on gut health. Our articles are researched by clinical nutritionists and contain citations at the end of the page.)
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Most people add probiotics to their bodies through diet and supplements. Vegans may struggle to find supplemental probiotic sources that are void of animal products — paying close attention to labels is crucial.
What to Look for
Are the probiotic strains derived from dairy?
Dairy is a common source of probiotics. Look for probiotic supplements that are dairy-free. These probiotic strains are typically made from fermented vegetables.
As much as 4 out of 5 probiotics found on the market contain dairy products.
The bottom of this page contains product recommendations. First, let's learn the realties of vegan probiotics so we know which to buy.
Is the probiotic manufactured in a facility that also produces shellfish, dairy, or egg products?
This is important to know since there's a likelihood of cross-contamination.
Is the probiotic FDA-approved?
This ensures quality and safety. Even though probiotics are not required to be tested by the FDA, you want to be sure your probiotics are safe and free of contamination.
Does the probiotic contain allergens, artificial ingredients, preservatives, or fillers?
Many companies use one or the other. However, some companies refuse to add unnecessary ingredients. Look for companies that are transparent with their ingredients.
Is the probiotic made from corn, wheat, or soy?
Even if an animal product isn't used, far too many vegan products contain soy, corn, and wheat. These products are often heavily contaminated with pesticides or unwanted ingredients that may destroy or harm the gut.
Look for probiotics labeled as gluten-free:
What probiotic strains are used?
Different strains combat different health issues. While your options may be limited as a vegan, you don't want to settle for a strain of probiotics that will have little to no effect on your health.
Below are a variety of probiotic strains — in alphabetical order — and how they may benefit your health.
Bacillus coagulans — combats diarrhea
Bifidobacterium bifidum — attacks bad bacteria and helps build back good bacteria following a round of antibiotics
Bifidobacterium breve — helps keep the digestive tract healthy
Bifidobacterium lactis — improves the digestion and immune systems
Bifidobacterium infantis — helps keep the digestive tract healthy
Bifidobacterium longum—helps to digest dietary fiber, prevent infection, and produce vitamins and other essential chemicals within the body
Lactobacillus acidophilus — helps with lactose intolerance. Also fights overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the intestines and vaginal yeast infections caused by antibiotic use
Lactobacillus brevis — supports the immune system and improves heart health
Lactobacillus bulgaricus — helps keep the pH in the small intestine low so harmful bacteria cannot grow
Lactobacillus casei — helps with the digestion of carbohydrates and keeps the digestive and urinary tracts healthy
Lactobacillus gasseri — combats allergies, as well as speeds up the metabolism, aids in weight loss, and protects against obesity.
Lactobacillus paracasei — benefits the gastrointestinal tract and boosts immunity
Lactobacillus plantarum — great detoxifier, relieves anxiety, increases calcium absorption, and combats inflammation
Lactobacillus reuteri — helps combat irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea, as well as, lactose intolerance, yeast infections, and UTI's
Lactobacillus rhamnosus — prevents the growth of harmful bacteria in the stomach and small intestines
Lactobacillus salivarius — lowers cholesterol and relieves asthma and inflammation.
Streptococcus thermophiles — benefits the digestive and immune systems
Vegan Probiotics in Food
Food is a great way to get the benefits of probiotics — and makes it easier for you to stick to your vegan diet.
These vegan-friendly foods contain essential probiotics:
Fermented cabbage, sauerkraut is full of probiotics such as Lactobacillus bacteria strains. It also contains potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
How to make: Place shredded cabbage into a saltwater solution or brine until it ferments. You can also purchase it at any supermarket. Just make sure it is unpasteurized.
A Korean dish, kimchi is also fermented cabbage, although typically spicy. It is full of Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc probiotic strains, vitamins, as well as antioxidants. (Park,Jeong, Lee, & Daily2014)
How to make: Place strips of cabbage in a bowl with 6 cups of water and coarse salt. In another bowl mix 3/4 of a sweet apple, 1/2 onion, 1 1/2 inch of ginger, two cloves of garlic, three tablespoons of Korean chili powder or crushed red pepper flakes and paprika, three scallions, sugar, and nori. Once the cabbage has sat out for 4-8 hours, drain, and then mix the spice mixture with the cabbage and jar. Let it sit out in room temperature for up to 36 hours before eating.
Fermented tea made with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Kombucha contains Acetobacter, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Gluconacetobacter kombuchae probiotic strains.
How to make: Combine 7 cups water, 1/2 c sugar, and four bags of tea to a boil. Bring it to room temperature. Then remove the tea bags, pour into a jar, add a starter kombucha tea, and the SCOBY. Store for 1-4 weeks before trying.
Contains several sources of nutrients and probiotics such as Lactobacillus and Streptococcus probiotic strains.
How to make: Prepare any vegetable by cutting to your desired size, then add it along with salt or culture into water. Jar it up and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 weeks.
A healthy beverage that contains Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc strains of bacteria.
How to make: Find a preferable culture or yeast made from water kefir grains. Add it to juice or coconut water and let it ferment.
The beneficial bacteria associated with probiotics may help to build and support a healthy digestive system and immune system.
In addition, there's growing interest in probiotics for their ability to prevent and even treat a range of health conditions. (Doron & Snydman 2015)
Probiotics have been shown to support improved sleep and mental health. This is because healthy gut microbiota plays a significant role in the gut-brain connection. In other words, a healthy gut may be essential to brain health.
Even with all of the touted health benefits, there may still be some side effects. Probiotics, especially those taken through food sources, can cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating and gas.
If you and your doctor determine probiotics are right for you, we recommend the following products:
Park K.Y., Jeong J.K., Lee Y.E., & Daily J.W. Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food. 3rd Journal of Medical Food. 2014;17(1):6–20. doi:10.1089/jmf.2013.3083 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456350
Vaginal yeast infections happen to most — if not every — woman at some point in their life. Probiotics are a natural way to treat the symptoms of yeast infections. Learn which strains you should look for in supplements.
Whether you've been dealing with chronic symptoms for a long time or want to prevent future complications, learning more about gut dysbiosis is vital to understanding the connection between gut health and overall well-being.