Is It Better To Take A Probiotic Supplement Or Eat Probiotic Yogurt?

Your body, much like every other body here on Earth, is an ecosystem — home to countless species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses (per the American Museum of Natural History). As you sit there, sipping your coffee and scrolling the internet, there are more of these microbes living on your skin than there are people living on the planet — and that's nothing compared to what's going on in your gut.

If your body were a country, your gut would undoubtedly be the busy and bustling capital — housing more than 100 trillion microbial cells. Far from being free-loaders, these microbes have been evolving with the human body for more than 6 million years, cultivating a symbiotic relationship that benefits us just as much as it benefits them. The microbes in your gut play a key role in digestion, metabolism, inflammation, and immune response, and when these little critters are getting what they need, they ensure that everything works as it should (per Cleveland Clinic). However, when the gut microbiome is upset by illness or poor diet, disorder often ensues — and that's where probiotics come in.

Probiotics are live bacteria that can help to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome. While some people prefer to get their daily dose of probiotics from foods like yogurt, others may opt for supplements instead. But is one more effective than the other? Let's find out.

Probiotics in yogurt vs. supplements

For those looking to incorporate more probiotics into their diets, yogurt is often the first choice. To make yogurt, milk is cultured with bacteria — such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus – triggering a process called fermentation which causes the milk to thicken and sour (per Physician's Choice). Lactobacillus works by maintaining a high level of acidity in the gut — making it an unwelcome environment for harmful strains of bacteria (per In many cases, additional strains of good bacteria are added to the yogurt after the pasteurization process, further enhancing its gut-health benefits. Dairy products like yogurt allow good bacteria to survive the digestion process, so they can be safely delivered to your intestines (per Dairy Council of California).

You can also up your probiotic intake with the use of over-the-counter supplements. Supplements can give you access to a wider range of healthy bacteria than yogurt can, allowing you to diversify your gut microbiome. However, because supplements don't require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there's no way of knowing how effective and safe they actually are (per Cleveland Clinic).

Which is better?

While both yogurt and supplements can provide a boost in gut-healthy bacteria you may be wondering, is one better than the other? The answer to that isn't so black and white, though. Consumer's Health Report suggests that because yogurt only contains an average of four naturally occurring strains of bacteria, it doesn't hold a candle to the typical eight different strains one probiotic capsule can carry. Additionally, in the United States, there's no minimum requirement for live cultures in yogurt. That means that while a label might claim to contain probiotics, there may be very few live cultures in the yogurt.

On the other hand, because supplements don't require FDA approval, yogurt may be a safe bet. A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that the saliva and fecal matter of participants who took probiotic supplements contained a comparable level of microorganisms to those that ate yogurt, indicating that they worked similarly.