Ever stared in confusion at the dazzling array of yogurt products at the local supermarket? Have you asked yourself if any of them are any good? To help you choose, we’ve looked under the hood (or cap) of some probiotic yogurt brands and have searched the literature to see if any them might have benefits.

The reason that there are now so many varieties in the supermarket stems from the fact that yogurt has a projected 7 billion market in the United States[1]. In fact, according to Forbes magazine, there appears to be a budding “Yogurt War” reminiscent of the old cola wars of the 1980s[2].

Milk aisleCredit: By AshokaJegroo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Besides capitalizing on our cravings for the luscious taste and texture of Greek-style yogurt, the industry is playing the health card. Research has shown that many bacterial strains used to make yogurt are beneficial and, thus, are probiotic in nature. But some probiotic bacteria are more potent than others, and not every yogurt brand contains the same species. This means that some brands will be potentially more health-inducing than others. 

Typical Yogurt Bacterial Strains

Just about every yogurt on the market contains Lactobacillus bulgarus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These strains are responsible for yogurt texture and flavor. While most hard core probiotic scientists have ignored these general strains, there are some studies that indicate that they too have probiotic beneftis. A study using non-alcoholic, fatty liver disease patients demonstrated that they could be helpful for the liver, by improving liver enzyme levels[3]. In individuals with anorexia, they helped improve the immune response[4]. They can also help people with lactose intolerance through increased lactose digestion[5]. An early study with infants suffering from diarrhea showed that feeding babies yogurt could help clear up intestinal problems[6][7].

Yogurt with Potent Probiotics

The majority of yogurt brands add other species besides L. bulgarus and S. thermophilus. However, the majority of the added species are not defined at a strain level, and their purpose is not for health benefits but more for giving the yogurt a unique taste and texture. While these added species most certainly do improve the probiotic value of yogurt, it's impossible to be certain what that contribuition is without the precise strain name. However, there are some brands that do identify the strains that they add. These brands are La Yogurt; Dannon’s Activia and DanActive; and Yakult. 

La Yogurt

La Yogurt specifically mentions that their yogurt contains the strain Bifidobacterium animalis lactis BB-12. This strain is mentioned time and time again in clinical studies, both alone and with other probiotic strains. Individual studies, looking at B. animalis lactis BB-12 alone, have found that this strain has the ability to reduce inflammation[8][9][10]. Yet, it also has the ability to bolster the immune response, making influenza vaccines more potent[11] and reducing respiratory diseases in infants[12]

Activia

Activia, from Dannon, contains Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010. This strain is also known as the trade strain, Bifidus regularis. This probiotic bacteria has been investigated individually and seems ideal for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Initial studies in mice showed that it reduces intestinal inflammation[13]. In humans, it reduces symptoms associated with IBS, like constipation[14][15], bloating[16], and discomfort[17].

DanActive

The probiotic yogurt DanActive from Dannon contains Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001. The trade name of this strain is L. casei Immunitas. The reason that this strain was interesting for Dannon was that early investigations in children suggested that it could prevent diarrhea[18][19]. Other investigations indicated that it may even be helpful for Crohn’s disease[20]. It also seems to boost the immune response, helping influenza vaccinations[21]. Another trial in 2010 showed that it could decrease the rate of illness in children[22]

Yakult

Yakult contains the strain Lactobacillus casei Shirota. This strain is continuely being researched. It is already known that it is useful for chronic constipation[23]. It also modulates the immune response, preventing common infections[24], helping allergy[25] and improving liver disease[26]. It may also be good for cancer treatment. Lactobacillus casei Shirota reduces carcinogenic metabolites in the colon[27] and the reemergence of bladder cancer after surgery[28].

More Fun in the Dairy Aisle

While most yogurts are designed for taste and texture, there are some that have been developed with an eye for improving health. Now that you have an idea of what the most potent strains can do, your next visit to the dairy aisle should be less confusing and a lot more fun!

Phillips Colon Health Probiotic Supplement, 90 Count
Amazon Price: $59.99 $27.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 20, 2016)