Bacteria get a pretty bad rap. Never more so than during a pandemic, when we are disinfecting everything that crosses the threshold of our homes and scrubbing our already dried-out hands with alcohol sanitiser for the umpteenth time that day.
Germs have become public enemy number one; they put the fear of God into us.
Killing all bacteria, however, would be hugely harmful to human life.
Whether we would like to admit or not, our bodies are home to 100 trillion microbes, which keep us healthy. Many of the microorganisms we play host to live in our digestive tracts and make up what is called the gut microbiota or flora.
Significant advances in exploring the human microbiome have been made in labs in the last two decades.
Dr Sandrine Claus, the chief scientific officer at LNC Therapies – which develops live biotherapeutic products – and a former associate professor in integrative metabolism at the University of Reading, explains: “Pretty much most chronic disorders: all intestinal disorders, such as Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis, many metabolic disorders and inflammatory disorders, including arthritis” are affected by gut bacteria.
So how do we improve our gut flora? Claus recommends eating fermented foods, yoghurt and high-fibre vegetables, as well as those containing inulin – such as Jerusalem artichoke, leeks and garlic. Supplements can also play a major role in fixing our gut health.
Mainstream products, which come in the form of pills or powders, include prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics. The difference between them, Claus says, is simple.
“We coined the term probiotics only very recently because now we realise the bacteria that had been used for centuries to ferment food are really beneficial for the hosts, the human body. They act on the rest of the gut microbes to maintain a healthy gut.
"Prebiotics are basically the sugars or fibres that are specifically directed to boost the beneficial bacteria that we already have in the gut. And synbiotics are only found in pharmaceuticals because they are a combination of pre and probiotics.”
In short, probiotics are beneficial live bacteria, prebiotics feed those good bacteria and synbiotics are a combination of both. The supplements market now offers an enormous range of these products, which can make hunting out the best ones a little tricky.
We’ve done the legwork for you, unearthing those supplements that will leave your gut – and you – feeling healthy and happy. We’ve included those suitable for people with allergies and explored all three types (probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics) so there really is something for everyone.
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 Nue Co probiotic plant protein, 200g
The stylish old-fashioned pharmacy-style packaging of this power product is fitting of the powder inside. It is a blend of organic pea, hemp and brown rice protein, and contains a 20 million spore probiotic and prebiotic inulin, making it a synbiotic. Each serving gives you all nine essential amino acids and the same amount of protein as two eggs. Is there anything this product cannot do? It proved the perfect supplement for our tester in a post workout smoothie.
Buy now £25.00, The Nue Co
Bimuno daily, 30 sachets
This is a prebiotic powder that can be added to hot and cold drinks, and it comes with Claus’s personal recommendation because of the research behind it. It contains the active ingredient GOS (galactooligosaccharides) to feed our bifidobacteria (bacteria found in your intestines) and, within eight-14 days of continuous use, this supplement can change our microbiome for the better. The great thing about this product is that it is suitable for little tummies, aged four years and older. Our 12-year-old tester took a sachet in a drink each day and noticed a “lighter” feeling.
Buy now £11.99, Bimuno
PerformanceLab prebiotic, four-month supply
This probiotic boosting product features inulin-FOS (fructooligosaccharides) from chicory root to support digestive health – but the benefits do not stop there. Daily use can also support heart health by regulating bad cholesterol absorption, support bone health by boosting calcium absorption, and even help maintain a healthy weight. Even the capsule shells themselves are 100 per cent natural, prebiotic infused and easy to digest as they are made from pullulan (fermented tapioca). This prebiotic is completely allergen-free and suitable for vegans, making it perfect for anyone needing a lift.
Buy now £87.00, PerformanceLab
Garden of Life microbiome mood+, 60 capsules
If you’re turning to probiotics to try and help with mood disorders, this one is for you. These probiotic pills contain 50 billion colony-forming units (CFU) and feature clinically studied strains to support mood. The addition of ashwagandha, an ancient ayurvedic herb, organic Alaskan blueberries and acacia prebiotic fibre add to its stress-busting powers. Our tester noticed a lift in mood and better digestion.
Buy now £25.20, Garden of Life
Healthspan super20 pro, 60 capsules
Many probiotic and prebiotic supplements contain lactose and finding one that is vegan and lactose intolerant friendly can take a bit of looking around. Enter super20 pro, which contains 20 billion live bacteria from five well-researched strains to provide a helpful gut boost our tester could feel.
Buy now £15.95, Healthspan
Symprove, 12-week programme
If ever there were a cult gut health product, this is it. The water-based probiotic has been praised by TV’s Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Dr Bu Hayee of King’s College, London, and Professor Simon Gaisford, who is a professor of pharmaceutics at the UCL School of Pharmacy. Because Symprove is water-based, the live and active bacteria survive passing through the stomach to safely make their way to the gut, where the magic happens. Our tester noticed a significant reduction in bloating and found going to the toilet became easier and more regular.
Buy now £158.00, Symprove
The Really Healthy Company micromax, 500ml
This one is somewhat unlike the other products we tested. The liquid both balances gastrointestinal flora and inhibits gut pathogens. It can even be used topically on the skin or as a sinus cleanse. It is naturally fermented in Austria and the process uses 40 different wild alpine herbs, including caraway, dandelion and fenugreek. Each daily dose delivers 42 million CFU aerobic organisms and 120 million CFU anaerobic organisms. It is also vegan.
Buy now £21.59, Planet Organic
Solgar advanced acidophilus plus, 60 capsules
This product gives you a lot of bang for your buck if you’re looking to maintain healthy bacteria levels. Each capsule delivers 1.5 billion active beneficial microorganisms that are guaranteed to survive stomach acid. Solgar’s range also includes advanced 40+ acidophilus, which is perfect for the more mature among us as it is specially formulated for people aged 40 and older.
Buy now £18.99, Amazon
Bio-Kult boosted, 30 capsules
The advanced multi-action, extra strength formulation of boosted promises not only to support gut health but also help keep your immune system in top form. It contains 14 strains of live bacteria 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 great news for immunity and, interestingly, the bacteria are cryoprotected during the freeze-drying process to aid their survival through stomach acid to the gut.
Buy now £24.98, Bio-Kult
Holland & Barrett ultra maximum acidophilus, 60 capsules
Holland & Barrett’s own brand product is a total bargain, with each daily capsule containing 20 billion bacteria cultures. Our tester has a sensitive digestive system but reported easing of IBS symptoms and a more comfortable feeling. Having to only take one capsule a day was also a bonus over some of the other products that required multiple doses.
Buy now £9.49, Holland & Barrett
Golden Greens organic prebiotic inulin, 250g
This inulin fibre is said to help promote better sleep (as well as support good gut bacteria and digestive health), so our insomniac tester could not wait to give it a go. Just a teaspoon daily in water 90 minutes before hitting the hay worked wonders and resulted in a truly restful night. This product is also gluten and lactose-free.
Buy now £12.99, Golden Greens
Fushi vegan biotic balance, 90 capsules
These capsules have been developed especially for vegans, and feature Fushi’s custom biotic blend, which contains FOS and beneficial strains that can be found in fermented foods, such as kefir. Each dose delivers 10 billion CFU and the added benefit of vitamin C to help boost the immune system and maintain the normal metabolism of energy from food. Our vegan tester noticed a huge reduction in bloating within just days of using it.
Buy now £18.40, Fushi
Wild Nutrition multi-strain biotic, 90g
This is another powder form supplement and one that is taken with water on an empty stomach. It uses eight strains of beneficial bacteria and each dose contains an impressive 30 billion CFU. Another great thing about this is that it is safe in conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Taken with Wild Nutrition’s digestive enzyme complex, multi-strain biotic will have your gut in tip top condition in no time.
Buy now £37.00, Planet Organic
The verdict: Prebiotic and probiotic supplements
The multitasking nature of The Nue Co’s probiotic plant protein made it our top pick of this amazing bunch of supplements. PerformanceLab prebiotic, with its two-in-one probiotic and soluble fibre support, and The Really Healthy Company’s micromax are worthy runners up. The Holland & Barrett ultra maximum acidophilus deserves a mention for its high performance at an excellent price.