Are probiotics vegan? Not all probiotics are vegan. Some contain ingredients from animal or dairy sources so you should check the label carefully to ensure your supplement meets your lifestyle.
Ever find yourself at a grocery store or pharmacy, browsing the probiotics aisle and finally you spot one that checks all your boxes? It’s science-backed, multispecies and multistrain, and shelf-stable. You think you’ve hit a gold mine. You turn the product box around to look at the other ingredients and spot… DAIRY!
You’re vegan, so you know you can’t take this probiotic. Feeling overwhelmed by the options and defeated by the lack of quality products, you leave the store without success and pining for a probiotic that aligns with your lifestyle.
Although vegan products are becoming increasingly available, many popular probiotic foods and supplements are not vegan.
This poses an issue for vegans and for people with lactose intolerance. It’s even a problem for many others, because certain animal products are known to cause inflammation in the gut which is counter-productive to making an effort to support your gut health.
Therefore, it’s best to opt for a probiotic that is vegan to fully promote your gut health and overall wellbeing.
In this blog post, we’ll review the benefits of probiotics, what to consider when it comes to vegan probiotics and how to choose the best vegan probiotic.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Probiotics are the billions of good bacteria that live in and on our body and especially populate our intestines. These beneficial gut bacteria assist in many important functions in the body, including healthy digestion and bowel movements, the immune system, stress response, concentration, mood and sleep.
The gut microbiome consists of these good probiotic bacteria as well as yeasts, fungi and other microorganisms. In order to maintain a healthy gut and overall well-being, it’s important to keep a healthy bacterial balance and diversity.
External factors, such as stress, certain medications (e.g. antibiotics) and an unhealthy diet can disrupt the healthy bacterial balance and diversity in the gut, and lead to health issues.
First and foremost, these health issues will show up as digestive discomfort, including diarrhea, bloating and constipation. Over time, a damaged gut can lead to a weaker immune system and more frequent illness, skin issues, urinary tract infections, migraines and trouble sleeping (to name a few).
Longer term, research shows a strong connection between a bacterial imbalance in the gut and severe illness, including type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
When you take probiotics, you replenish the essential beneficial bacteria in your gut and promote your gut health, so that all related processes in your body can continue to function properly.
Benefits of Taking Probiotics
There are vast health benefits of taking probiotics. The gut with its beneficial probiotic bacteria plays an important role in everything from optimizing your digestion and bowel movements, to supporting your immune function and healthy skin, to managing irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut, and promoting mental health and a healthy metabolism.
It’s important to note that there are hundreds of different probiotic species and strains (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum) and each of these different strains performs a slightly different task in the body.
For example, several studies have shown that people suffering from obesity have higher numbers of a specific bacterial species in their guts than slim people. This involves the two large bacterial groups called Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Ideally these should both be present in a ratio of 1:1. In obese people, this ratio shifts to a predominance of Firmicutes, sometimes up to a ratio of 2,000 to 1.
The most effective probiotics to take are supplements that have been scientifically combined to address specific health needs. These supplements include probiotic strains that work hand in hand to promote certain health outcomes.
Are All Probiotics Vegan?
Not all probiotics are vegan. Many of the most popular probiotic foods and supplements include animal products, very commonly dairy.
Oftentimes, people reach for probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir. This is problematic in several ways. Regular yogurt and kefir are made up of dairy and include lactose, which many people are intolerant to. Up to 50 million people in the U.S. are lactose intolerant, whether they know it or not.
This means that if these people ingest yogurt or kefir, their bodies react negatively rather than reaping the benefits of getting extra probiotic bacteria. Whereas probiotics are supposed to optimize digestion, dairy-rich foods and drinks would likely lead to diarrhea in people with lactose intolerance.
Furthermore, even if someone is not lactose intolerant, dairy-rich products contribute to inflammation in the gut. This inflammation is a common cause for leaky gut and triggers a vicious cycle of an unhealthy gut and gut-related health challenges.
When it comes to supplements, many popular probiotics also include dairy. The same risks apply. Unfortunately, the heavy marketing and advertising behind some of these products continue to boost their popularity, even though a vegan probiotic supplement would be much more beneficial.
A probiotic that is non-dairy and does not include animal products will usually have the most profound positive impact on gut health and have the largest consumer base, including vegans and people with a lactose intolerance.
In addition, a vegan probiotic does not potentially counteract the probiotic benefits by contributing to dairy-caused inflammation in the gut. It’s hard to understand why manufacturers continue to include dairy in probiotics.
Human probiotic bacteria are natural to the body and will be able to settle in the gut and reproduce. Animal-derived probiotic bacteria, such as those found in dairy products, often cannot colonize in the human digestive tract. In this case, the probiotics you ingest simply run through your digestive system and come back out on the other side with your stool.
Vegan Foods That Contain Probiotics
There is a good selection of vegan foods that contain probiotics, including dairy-free yogurt. Fermented foods and drinks, such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha (fermented tea), pickles, and sourdough bread also include good bacteria and are vegan.
While there are benefits to adding probiotic foods and drinks to your diet, it is best to choose a probiotic supplement. Why? Because a premium probiotic supplement typically combines probiotic strains in a mindful way so that they are mutually reinforcing and work towards a specific health goal.
For example, we offer a probiotic supplement, OMNi-BiOTiC® AB 10, that contains ten beneficial bacterial strains that work together to restore and maintain healthy bacterial balance and diversity in the gut, especially after exposure to medications and pathogens.
OMNi-BiOTiC® AB 10, as well as our other probiotic products, is made up of highly active human probiotic bacteria and is vegan. It is a very effective probiotic for anyone looking to support gut health and respect their vegan lifestyle choices.
Should Vegans Still Take a Probiotic Supplement?
Yes, probiotic supplements are much more targeted than simply eating probiotic-rich foods. With a supplement, you know exactly which strains you’re getting and how many CFUs (colony forming units) of each strain.
Yogurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, and miso are among the most common probiotic foods and drinks. Sometimes they’re referred to as “fermented foods.” Fermented foods are foods and beverages that have gone through controlled growth of bacteria or yeast via a fermentation process.
Of course, incorporating food sources rich in probiotics adds variety to any meal plan, which is great for overall digestive health. However, it’s much more difficult to ensure that the probiotic bacteria are alive when you ingest them, and that these live bacteria survive the passage through the acidic environment of the stomach and safely reach your intestines.
Certain probiotics on the market are tailored to specific health needs, so you can have more of an impact by choosing a supplement that meets your health needs and still allow you to maintain a vegan diet.
This comparison of kombucha and yogurt versus probiotics explains more about the difference between probiotic supplement and probiotic-rich foods.
One other thing to note about foods is that adding prebiotic foods such as bananas, asparagus, leeks, and garlic to your diet can help feed the beneficial probiotic bacteria and make them thrive in your gut.
Choosing the Best Vegan Probiotics
To choose the best vegan probiotic for you, consider the following factors:
1. Check the ingredients: This might seem obvious, but really make sure you check all the ingredients on the label, including what the capsule or gummy is made up of. You may be surprised to find that there are additives such as milk sugars, lactose or gelatin. All OMNi-BiOTiC® probiotics available in the U.S. are free of animal products and certified vegan.
2. Multistrain and multispecies: Your gut flora requires bacterial diversity. And probiotic bacteria work best in teams to accomplish important functions in your body. Adding just one bacterial strain via a probiotic supplement is not as effective as adding a mindfully combined multispecies, multistrain probiotic to your daily routine.
3. Probiotics tailored to your needs: For best results, choose a probiotic that is tailored to your specific health needs. For example, if you just took a course of antibiotics, choose a probiotic that was specifically designed to support your gut flora during and after antibiotic treatment.
4. Demonstrated efficacy through clinical studies: When you spend money on a probiotic, you want to make sure it works. Choose a supplement that is supported by clinical studies that show that the product works.
5. Delivery mechanism: You have a choice between capsules, gummies and powder. Whereas gummies might be the tastiest option, they are not the most effective. Many of the bacteria will die and become ineffective before they reach the intestines.
At OMNi-BiOTiC®, we manufacture our probiotics in a powder form. The powder is dissolved in water prior to intake, which reactivates the probiotic bacteria. This ensures that a much higher number of beneficial bacteria reaches the intestine, where they need to be to perform their vital tasks.
6. Refrigeration or not: Many probiotic supplements require refrigeration. If you choose a probiotic that requires refrigeration, this may make it more difficult to take along in your bag on a busy day or when you travel. OMNi-BiOTiC® products come in travel-size, daily sachets that do not require refrigeration and are easy to take on-the-go.
All OMNi-BiOTiC® Probiotics are certified vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free, and soy-free as well as Non-GMO. Our products undergo clinical trials and studies for safety and effectiveness and are carefully designed to support beneficial microbiota in your gut. To learn more about which OMNi-BiOTiC® supplement is right for you, you can take our product fit quiz.