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Is Your Probiotic Pill Worthless? A Simple Test To Find Out At Home!

When I attended the Natural Products Expo this year I noticed that there were dozens of newly launched products that were fortified with probiotics – they were everywhere! There is no disputing that probiotics (good bacteria) are good for you, but I have to question the viability of the probiotics in these products and whether they are any better than eating naturally fermented foods. I try to add fermented foods to my diet often and I eat them almost every day because I’ve found them to be the best way to feed my body probiotics. 

This is essential because most of our food has been pasteurized, irradiated, or chemically treated to kill bugs – but this also kills the good stuff. Our soil is depleted of good bacteria with the overuse of synthetic pesticides and other chemical contamination. Certain substances in our food have also been suspected to cause leaky gut syndrome – which creates tiny little holes in our digestive system organs that leak out the good bacteria we need to stay healthy and keep our immune system strong.

This is why we absolutely must do everything to restore the good bacteria in our guts. Historically, food was often preserved with fermentation and traditional diets often consisted of raw and fermented foods that contained a healthy dose of good bacteria. The fermentation process creates good bacteria that work like a little army in your gut helping to defend you from various ailments

Besides eating fermented foods regularly, I also take a probiotic supplement. I like to take one as insurance, just to make sure that my body is getting all of the healthy probiotics that it needs. This is also super important when traveling, when fermented foods may not be as easy to come by and at least I know that I’ve got a probiotic pill as a backup.


That being said, not all probiotic supplements are created equally. Some on the market have been shown to have inaccurate labeling and may not contain all of the probiotics that they say they do. To gain more information on this, I reached out to Dr. Amy Shah, M.D., a member of my advisory council, and asked her to compile her research into a guest post for us. Dr. Shah is a practicing physician, specializing in Allergy & Immunology and Internal Medicine. The following is what she has to say about probiotic pills, how to choose the best supplements, plus a simple test that you can do at home to test your probiotics to see if they are viable! 

Here’s some news: your probiotic pill is probably not doing anything for you.

I know that’s a bold statement but it’s true.


First, probiotic pills are under regulated – meaning no one is really making sure that what you see is actually what you get. I will explain more below.

Secondly, the studies supporting probiotics are weak. For all intents and purposes a probiotic study just has to show that its strain of probiotic comes out in the stool after you ingest it. Does that mean it did anything for you while it was traveling down your intestines? No.

Lastly, food based probiotics (fermented foods etc) seem to be a more potent and effective way to reseed the gut. In other words, why use pills when there are countless, delicious fermented food options out there?

But listen – if you are going to take probiotics then I recommend some that are MUCH better than others.


Currently probiotic manufacturers do not have to specify on their product labels the strains they use in probiotic products or specify the number of live microbes of each strain deliver though the end of shelf life. So even an expiration date is not mandatory!

Additionally, probiotics fall into multiple categories within FDA regulations (food, food additive, supplement and drug) so “expertise is spread unevenly across multiple centers at FDA without a single authoritative agency voice on the issue”.

So probiotics operate in an unregulated marketplace. Label claims are often inaccurate, as is the amount of bacteria the probiotics are said to contain. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to know just what you’re getting. One study tested 14 commercial probiotics and found that only one contained the exact species listed on the label.

If you are buying probiotics from your local drug store shelf chances are you are buying nothing more than fluff.

Considering probiotics are delicate live bacteria – they can die during high heat processing, during the packaging process, or while living on the shelves of the store.

2. Did you know that the STUDIES supporting most Probiotics are weak?

There are gaps in current research, concerns about quality of research, and ethical and consumer issues related to under-regulated, under-enforced product claims.

A probiotic pill or product is not technically a probiotic unless the bacteria have been shown to be viable when ingested so most probiotics out there are not actually probiotics.

Even the American Academy of Microbiology has said that “at present, the quality of probiotics available to consumers in food products around the world is unreliable.”

Another issue is that the probiotic listed in the ingredients may not “seed” your gut meaning you are just taking it and then pooping it out. Think of a seed that is planted in a barren garden – you can plant the seeds but they won’t grow without water and sunlight. Similarly, probiotics cannot proliferate and live in your gut if you take a probiotic pill but then don’t eat foods that support its growth.

There are tons of probiotics out there and many with accompanying studies that support their efficacy – but ultimately, most probiotic supplements are bogus and a waste of your money.

3. Food-based Probiotics are preferred.

You can effectively reap the benefits of probiotics by drinking kombucha or coconut kefir, which you can actually make yourself with kefir grains. If that sounds like too big an undertaking, choose an organic low sugar kombucha from your health food store.

Probiotic – or fermented – foods provide a great amount of nutrients and phytochemicals. Sauerkraut and fermented vegetables are SUPER easy (and cheap!) to make yourself. Literally get a jar, add water, salt, veggies, cover – put in a cupboard for 3-10 days. Poof! Probiotics.

There are also prebiotic foods – foods that gut bacteria eat and need to proliferate. Chicory root, artichoke, dandelion greens, asparagus are all good prebiotic options. The key here is to get fiber all the way to the good bacteria that live in the last parts of our colon. 

However, if you’re unable to take in these foods, you can get some of the needed nutrients from a supplement.

If you do decide to take pills:

I personally use a brand called VSL-3 (non-GMO) containing 112.5 billion bacteria per capsule. The dried sachet form has level I evidence of effectiveness (highest level possible for medical studies) in treating Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases.

Make sure to take the recommended dosage and to take the supplement on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and before bed. Look for a probiotic with an expiration date and one that contains a wide range of bacteria strains, most importantly:

  • Acidophilus: Naturally found in mouth, intestine and vagina (often prescribed for yeast infections). Promotes nutrient absorption and facilitates dairy digestion.
  • Longum: Anti-inflammatory, protects gut lining, keep toxins and pathogens out of the gut.
  • Bifidum: Found in small and large intestines. Necessary for optimal digestion within digestive tract.

The jury is out as to if refrigerated probiotics are necessarily “better” but for sure refrigerate them once opened.

Home test: You can test probiotic supplements at home by adding them to about 4 oz of cold milk and leaving them for 24-48 hours to see if it reacts with the milk. If it curdles, or becomes a yogurt like consistency – then it’s viable.

Another test is checking your stool for bacteria before and after taking a supplement or changing your diet. Companies like Ubiome are doing this.

So, there it is – do you take probiotics? Why or why not?

Amy Shah, M.D

Dr. Amy Shah is a specialist in Allergy & Immunology and Internal Medicine. She pursued her medical training at Columbia University Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconness/Harvard Medical School, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Cornell University. Prior to graduating with honors in research, she worked in the Channing Laboratory at Harvard University looking at the health effects of heavy metals on the body. She is now in a private medical practice. To learn more about Dr. Shah, visit

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152 responses to “Is Your Probiotic Pill Worthless? A Simple Test To Find Out At Home!

  1. My doctor prescribed an OTC probiotic called Align which is she said was highly regarded in the medical community. You an buy it at Walmart or any drugstore. I will try the test on it with the milk – thanks for this tip.

      1. Hi Vani, can I ask why you’re not a fan of Shaklee products? I have mixed feeling about them myself, not sure what to think…their supplements seem ok (I think) but the protein shakes I’m not so sure. Can you give me your opinion on it all and what you know about them? I’d really appreciate it as I have been asked to give them a try by a friend. Thank you so much!

  2. Wont all milk curdle if left out 48 hours? Also I’ve always heard to take probiotics with food so that the stomach acid has less chance of destroying it and it can get where it’s needed in the gut.

    1. Hi Lisa- does not matter much but ideally right before food to give it the best chance to get into you intestines and not get destroyed!

      You don’t have to do a full 48– sometimes it’s obvious in 10-12 hours. Put 2 cups -one with the probiotic and one without so you can see the difference 🙂

    1. I would imagine it would since that’s how you would make coconut yogurt… If you try it, let us know what happens please!

  3. Thanks for the article on probiotics. Dr. Shah, being that you are an immunologist, what is your recommendation for people who are histamine intolerant or who have mast cell activation disorders or mastocytosis regarding the consumption of fermented foods, fermented probiotics? I’ve been researching this topic for 4 years and everything that I have read indicates to avoid anything fermented as it is considered high in histamine. In your professional opinion do you think it’s safe for people with any of those conditions to consume fermented foods or should they be avoided? I realize these are complicated health conditions, but they are also grossly mis or un-diagnosed. I’m just inquiring in general, nothing too specific. Thank you!

  4. Tempted to try VSL but have been happy with what I’ve been using. Thoughts on Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra?

  5. I just bought Renew Life Ultimate Flora critical care probiotics today. 50 Billion. They are vegetable capsules. What’s your educated opinion on this product?

  6. So just put one of the capsules in milk? I use pearls and digestive advantage. I have a feeling they’re not great…

    1. Hi Karla- yep it’s easy 🙂 You can compare two brands as well. Just make sure you have a “control” milk that has nothing in it to see the difference.

    1. I love Mercola’s probiotics. They are the only kind that I’ve taken where I physically noticed a difference in how I feel. I’ll try the milk test, but I’m sure they’re effective.

      1. I just did milk test on Dr mercola probiotic and was very sad to find out the milk after 24 hours did not change at all ?

  7. Hi there! Do you know if Good Belly Super Shots are any good? They are 50 Billion Probiotic cultures in one shot?

    Also, my sons pediatrician recommended Kids Culturelle – Is that brand any good?

    Looking forward to your response.

    1. I use this as well. Was recommended by my natural practitioner. Seems to work well for me. Would love professional feedback as well.

  8. Raw Probiotics is the brand name in general but more specifically, Raw Probiotics Ultimate Care 100 Billion guaranteed 34 Probiotic Strains – would love to know if this is good? Thank you!

  9. Since we are adding beneficial bacteria to milk/coconut milk for the test it seems as if we are making kefir.

  10. Is eating yogurt a few times a week enough? Organic vanilla yogurt to be specific. Most of the fermented food options are not very appetizing to me.
    Same question for children. At what age should you be concerned with the amount of probiotics children are consuming?

    1. Yogurt is weak unless it is made from fresh unpasteurized milk and is not pasteurized. I make my own yogurt from milk directly from a natural grass fed cow like we used to do on the farm when I was a kid 45 years ago and the difference is incredible.

  11. My son is 14 months and takes Garden of Life RAW for Kids almost daily, so will definitely be doing this test! Thank you, this is timely! Not sure if he’s too young for fermented foods or kombucha, thoughts?

  12. I’m also curious to know what you think about plexus probiotics. They have been the only probiotic that I’ve taken that I’ve noticed any difference. They also have an anti fungal that eats away your Candida so your body can actually absorb the enzymes.

  13. Could you tell me if Metagenics brand is a good probiotic. I get it from my holistic practitioner. Thank you.

  14. I suffer from side pain from chronic constipation, no matter how many organic salads or smoothies I eat or how much I work out. My average movement without taking probiotics is 5-7 days. I have it journal recorded . I go to a Gastro. I am not diagnosed with Chrons and Probiotics aren’t regulated by the FDA he can’t genuinely comment or give advice for taking probiotics. I currently take garden of life women’s 90 billion and this works for a movement once every 1-3days. Yes, I am in my 20s and I know the 50 billion or above is for people 50 yrs or older and yes I am self diagnosing. Honestly, my life was drastically changed and I highly recommend probiotics but I am disappointed on its lack of regulation and shock on how it’s not used in medicine. Yes, I am not a doctor , self diagnosing and the probiotics are working. The cost of $50 a month is high and well I even tried to speak with Aetna regarding getting it pre approved for a reduced cost as I am using it as a medicine for IBS, not a supplement and had a Gastro vouche for me. Aetna declined my request and said they can’t cover supplements and I do have the option to appeal. I am also developing a throat irritation or soar throat, and it seems to be related, I don’t know if the probiotics are causing it or its related to acid reflux induced from IBS constipation. I also have a slightly white tounge. I am going to Gastro again to get an endoscopy and colonoscopy, to really see and have proof if there’s anything wrong. If I proceed to appeal to Aetna, I need a full story anyway, that’s if Aetna doesn’t go bankrupt or go out of business prior to my appeal. Besides that my Gastro recommended Linzess, FDA regulated and well I am completely wary of BigPharma drugs, I don’t trust it at all but I am not a doctor. The probiotics work great for movements but I don’t know why I have a slightly sore throat and whiteness on my tongue.
    That’s my comment, it was a vent. Other words, any advice on what kind of probiotics to take feel free to comment and opinion on Linzess or how to deal with Aetna. Let me know

    1. I’m so sorry, Elissa. Please look into ASEA. “REDOX molecules empower the propagation of a broad array of microorganisms in the GI tract. This is called the micro-biome. It is composed of many species of bacteria, fungus and yeast. This broad biodiversity creates a balance that is vital for health, and critically linked to REDOX chemistry. Inflammation is minimized which leads to intestinal wall strength and a strong barrier to protect our immune health and balance.” Dr Rob Ward

      Bottom line: If it involves a cell, ASEA will help your body correct and heal itself.
      404 384-4324
      You may call me if you would like. Gut health is important and to be “off” must be miserable.

    2. Elissa, have you been checked for other conditions. I have struggled with abdominal, side and back pain for years, always looking for the cause in the GI tract. However, after a trip to the ER last year where they did an ultrasound and catscan it was discovered that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (very painful) and had a Uterine Fibroid. The uterine fibroid put pressure on my bladder and pushed my intestines upward causing constipation. This is something I’ve had my whole adult life and did not get diagnosed until I was 48. Please ask your ob/gyn about your symptoms and get some tests for your pain. If they don’t do the tests tell them you have heavy periods, these conditions are often caused by too much estrogen. This is my experience, it may or may not be yours, but it wish someone had brought up the conditions 20 years earlier.

      1. When I go in for my annual ob/gyn I will definitely bring up and ask about Uterine Fibroids. I do have 8 + day menstrual cycles.

  15. Who cares that it’s under-regulated?! Regulated by who? The FDA regulates our food and medicines. Does this mean they are safe? Who cares there are not many studies about this? Every day there a new research is published and for every research that says one thing you can find hundreds saying the opposite. This is such a typical Medical Doctor answer! I am disappointed of you Food Babe for publishing it. This article doesn’t say much… I trust people not huge organizations with lots of other interests than my health and I trust my own body to tell me what works best for me.

    1. Amy, regulation is a good idea if just to make sure the company isn’t putting in things that can harm you, but also to ensure you get what they say you are paying for. Otherwise, bad people could sell you anything. Shoot we have bad reactions and even deaths related to regulated foods, imagine how bad it could get without someone trying to check.

    2. I agree with you Amy. Even if probiotics were regulated by the FDA, that wouldn’t make a big difference. I have a strongly negative view of the FDA. I would be comforted if probiotics were legitimately regulated though.

  16. I would really really love to know your opinion of Plexus probiotics. So many people want you to examine their products. Please!

  17. what do you think of the probiotic by life extensions called balance? it seems to work very well for me. Would love your thoughts. thank you.

  18. My health food store recommend a product called GOOD KARMA. Comes in 3 flavors and is refrigerated. Tastes like a fabulous smoothie. Are you familiar with the product? If so, what do you think of it?

  19. I take ASEA Redox Signaling Molecules. Native to the body – the body knows exactly what to with it; 100%safe and absolutely nontoxic. Not a nutrition, not a drug. :
    “REDOX molecules empower the propagation of a broad array of microorganisms in the GI tract. This is called the micro-biome. It is composed of many species of bacteria, fungus and yeast. This broad biodiversity creates a balance that is vital for health, and critically linked to REDOX chemistry. Inflammation is minimized which leads to intestinal wall strength and a strong barrier to protect our immune health and balance.”

  20. Do you know anything about Perfect Biotics? I watched a video on FB and wasn’t sure if it was just another scam.

      1. I completed the best on Perfect Biotics. After 12 hours, the milk with the biotics was very thick and curdled. The test milk was not.

  21. Years ago my doc recommended Culturelle. I use it, but it is pretty expensive. Is it worth it? I had a taste of kambucha once. Holy cow that was nasty.
    Is all of it sour like that? No wonder some of us take the pills.

    1. I don’t like the taste of kambucha, and have to mix it with other things, like my fruit and veggies smoothies; I don’t like ginger ale, either, but I know it has bennies. Like kimchi or other fermented products, you might have to work on acquiring a taste for it. Or just mix it with something else.

    2. If you got sour kombucha, you got an over done batch. Mine is bubbly, not particularly sweet, and tastes a bit like bubbly cider. Mmmmm!

  22. Testing your probiotic to see if it has beneficial activity by culturing in milk is a good idea, but you have to prepare the milk as you would when making yogurt. That means scalding the milk, heating it to 180 degrees, then allowing it to cool to about 105 degrees, then add the probiotic which should be in a powdered form, crushing if necessary. You’ll have to maintain about that 105 temp for about 6-8 hours. If the milk isn’t scalded to 180, any bacteria in the milk will predominate and that will be what is cultured, not so much the probiotic. You especially don’t want to culture spoilage bacteria to consume, thinking it is the results of testing your probiotic.

    Be careful when scalding the milk. Don’t use cheap, thin pans as they will heat unevenly and scorch the milk. Consider scalding the milk in an oven set at about 250 degrees in an oven proof ceramic container, even a coffee mug would work. For 105 degree culturing, start with the cup of milk set in a pan of water about that temp, then put it in the oven at very low heat or other warm place for a few hours.

  23. I also want to know more about Dr. Mercola’s probiotics. I have been buying for years and for my family. I buy the ones that require refrigeration which are very expensive. And I’m buying for 4!!

  24. Your thoughts on Healthy Origins non-gmo Natural Probiotic 30 Billion CFU’s Vcaps which is the one I use? I purchase on line from Swanson’s

    Thank you!

  25. Yikes….This brand is expensive for 30 days of sachets. Will the capsules work just as well? I’d love to get ordered ASAP! Thanks!

  26. Hi I looked up Seaford Farma Toronto for the recommended probiotic supplements and nothing came up on Google.
    Are you sure the probiotics are made by this company?
    Interested to know, thank you

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