Are Probiotics Vegan? Effective?

If you’re interested in improving your gut health as a vegan, you’ve likely come across probiotic supplements as an intriguing option. It seems like everyone is recommending them, but are probiotics vegan-friendly? 

They may appear plant-based at first glance, but every vegan knows that animal-derived ingredients can lurk in the most unsuspected places. 

As a vegan registered dietitian, I’ll discuss whether probiotics are appropriate for a vegan diet, how effective they are, and whether I recommend them for vegans. 

An illustration of the intestines with a bottle of probiotic pills with text overlay reading "are probiotics vegan? effective?"

What are probiotics?

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics1 defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

Typically, probiotics are certain strains of bacteria or yeast that help improve our health in some way. You can think about a “strain” of bacteria in terms of a “breed” of dog — each breed of dog is unique from other breeds in some way, but they’re all considered the same species. 

Some of the most common reasons people take probiotics are to improve their digestive health, strengthen their immune system, and for improved mental health.

Probiotics are available in:

  • Probiotic supplements with one or more bacterial strains
  • Fermented probiotic foods (e.g., yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha)
  • Processed foods that have had probiotics added to them (e.g., greens powders, protein powders)

Are probiotics vegan?

Probiotic supplements are vegan-friendly as long as the bacteria have been grown on a dairy-free growth medium2 and probiotic capsules are free from animal-based ingredients.

Probiotic capsules may contain non-vegan ingredients like gelatin or magnesium stearate, the latter of which is sometimes derived from animal fats. Some magnesium stearate is vegan-friendly. If the source of magnesium stearate isn’t clear from the package, you may need to contact the manufacturer.

Lactose, a cow’s milk sugar, is often used as a food source for bacteria during fermentation. To avoid lactose-cultured probiotics, look for vegan-certified probiotics or contact the supplement manufacturer for more information. 

Since vegans avoid all animal products, fermented foods such as dairy-based yogurt and kimchi traditionally containing fish sauce and/or shrimp paste aren’t vegan-friendly. Vegan probiotic foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Non-dairy yogurt
  • Tempeh (if heated below 120℉)
  • Natto
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi made without fish sauce or shrimp paste

Keep in mind that for a food to count as being rich in probiotics, it has to contain live & active cultures. This means that fermented foods, such as sourdough bread, which are cooked above 120℉ aren’t considered effective sources of probiotics.

RELATED: Natto vs. Tempeh: Comparing Two Soy Superstars

Fruit, granola, and yogurt parfait on a table covered in granola

Health benefits of probiotics

As it stands, little research shows that probiotics are helpful for healthy people without health conditions. Research shows that probiotic supplements are most likely to help with symptoms of certain digestive conditions, such as:

If taking probiotics while taking an antibiotic, be sure to wait at least 2 hours after your last antibiotic dose to take your probiotic. If taken too close together, the antibiotic could kill off the good bacteria in your probiotic supplement.

Keep in mind that the bacterial strains matter as well — Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and S. boulardii are the most well-researched for preventing diarrhea while on antibiotics.

Probiotics may also help relieve depression6, but research is still in the early stages. It isn’t yet clear which strains, dosages, or durations of probiotic supplementation are the most effective.

RELATED: The Best Vegan Brain Foods

Should vegans take probiotic supplements?

Despite the popularity of probiotics, I don’t feel that they’re necessary for most people, especially vegans. 

Vegan diets are rich in nutrients7 that naturally support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Plant-based foods are high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory polyphenols, and healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. 

Many of these nutrients are classified as prebiotics, compounds that feed good bacteria in the gut and provide health benefits.

Prebiotics help increase the number of beneficial bacteria compared to pathogenic bacteria. These “bad” bacteria are associated with inflammation and oxidative stress-related diseases, and feeding the good bacteria as much as possible can help reduce the negative effects of harmful bacterial strains.

Because plant-based diets are so high in fiber, vegan diets are associated with:

  • Increased production of anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids in the gut
  • Lower amounts of pathogenic bacteria in the gut
  • Lower cholesterol and inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein7

Taking a probiotic is unlikely to cause you any harm. Still, it probably won’t be more effective for supporting overall gut health or improving immune health than eating more whole plant foods like beans, legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Probiotic supplements contain a limited number of bacterial strains compared to the number naturally present in your gut. Plant-based foods, on the other hand, support a variety of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

If you’re interested in strengthening your immune system or gut health, I’d recommend incorporating more whole, nutrient-dense plant foods into your diet first before trying probiotic supplements – unless you’re taking them for the specific digestive health concerns listed in the section above.

Vegan chickpea lentil tacos with tomato, onion, avocado, lime


Probiotics are vegan-friendly as long as the bacteria or yeast strains have been cultured on growth media that don’t contain lactose or other animal-based ingredients. Make sure that probiotic capsules don’t contain gelatin or magnesium stearate derived from animal fats.

Probiotics aren’t necessary for most vegans, especially if you’re eating a variety of beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts as these foods are rich in dietary fiber and other prebiotics. 

However, if you’re looking to prevent diarrhea from taking antibiotics or while traveling, are interested in managing IBS symptoms, or are looking for an additional way to manage depression, probiotics could be helpful. 

Looking for ways to feel more energized overall? Check out The 11 Best Vegan Energy-Boosting Foods!

The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.


  1. Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;11(8):506-514. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66
  2. Pimentel TC, Costa WKAD, Barão CE, Rosset M, Magnani M. Vegan probiotic products: A modern tendency or the newest challenge in functional foods. Food Res Int. 2021;140:110033. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2020.110033
  3. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Probiotics – Health Professional Fact Sheet. NIH website. Accessed 3/18/24.
  4. Williams NT. Probiotics. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2010;67(6):449-458. doi:10.2146/ajhp090168
  5. Parker EA, Roy T, D’Adamo CR, Wieland LS. Probiotics and gastrointestinal conditions: An overview of evidence from the Cochrane Collaboration. Nutrition. 2018;45:125-134.e11. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2017.06.024
  6. Mörkl S, Butler MI, Holl A, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Probiotics and the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Focus on Psychiatry [published correction appears in Curr Nutr Rep. 2020 Jun 5;:]. Curr Nutr Rep. 2020;9(3):171-182. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00313-5
  7. Sakkas H, Bozidis P, Touzios C, et al. Nutritional Status and the Influence of the Vegan Diet on the Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Medicina (Kaunas). 2020;56(2):88. Published 2020 Feb 22. doi:10.3390/medicina56020088

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