How to Choose the Right Probiotic for You
As you make your way to the probiotic aisle at the store or browse the internet for options, you begin to realize: there’s a lot out there!
The Probiotic market is flooded with products and brands eager to capitalize on the benefits behind probiotics.
So how do you pick the right probiotic for you? And how do you determine which products are backed by scientific research?
Let’s jump into it!
Due to the unique characteristics of probiotics and their diverse benefits, regulatory requirements for probiotics depend on intended use and can be confusing. This makes it all the more important for consumers to do their homework and be able to identify quality probiotics.
The following criteria are good things to look for when evaluating a probiotic label:
- CFU – the number of living microorganisms
- Expiration Date
- Storage information
- Match the species and strain of probiotics to the benefit
Look for a brand that is backed by scientific research. You may think that all studies conducted by drug companies are naturally biased but many companies sincerely value health and wellness and invest in clinical research to substantiate their claims. A company truly dedicated to research will invest in studies that are randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled.
Research a brand to see if they are the real deal:
- Visit their website to find evidence of research
- Look for the above keywords along with probiotics that are “clinically proven”
- When possible, confirm a product is manufactured according to good manufacturing practices.
2. CFU – the number of living microorganisms
CFU stands for Colony-Forming Units. This number represents the best estimate of the number of living microorganisms in a sample. This is highly important as probiotics are living things and would only be considered a probiotic if they enter the intestinal tract alive.
But a higher CFU does not necessarily mean a superior product.
While a higher CFU is generally a good indicator, life is about balance and this is no different with probiotics. Your body needs the right amount of the right strain.
The number of colony forming units you need depends on your health and intended use of the probiotic. If you are in good health and plan to use probiotics for daily support, aim for 10 billion CFUs. If you are to support your health and think you need a higher dosage to start, you may want to seek out a supplement with 15-50 billion CFU’s. As always, consider safety first. Probiotics are safe for most people, but talk to your doctor first if you have any underlying illness or have a question about the use in the very young.
3. Expiration Date
The expiration date is just as important as the number of living organisms. After all, the CFU claim on the label means nothing if the probiotics are dead by the time they reach you.
Be wary of a product that only provides a “time of manufacture” or states “viable at time of manufacture”. You do not care if the probiotics are alive at production, you want them alive when they get to you.
Trust a product that has an expiration date or reads “viable through end of shelf life” or even “live cultures guaranteed”.
Pro tip: Pay attention to the expiration date when you bring your product home. You won’t get any benefit from a probiotic that has expired and died.
4. Storage Information
Since our probiotics are living things, it is important to store them in a suitable environment that will keep them alive. While probiotics remain in a dormant state until ingested, moisture and heat will drastically reduce their shelf life.
A dark, cool and dry place (ideally refrigeration) is always a welcomed environment to a probiotic and is guaranteed to maximize their shelf life. However, some probiotics are shelf stable and can survive under room temperature conditions. Reference the package label for specific storage instructions. Even for those products that are room temperature stable, once purchased, keeping cool is always the best route.
Shelf life can also be increased by a company’s choice of packaging. Amber glass provides protection from harmful UV rays and included desiccant packets will minimize moisture. CSP bottles, also known as stability shield™ (pictured right), offer even greater stability as the whole container is composed of a desiccant material.
Pro tip: Keep your probiotics in its original packaging rather than a pillbox to keep them happy.
5. Species and Strain of Probiotics Present
Your microbiome is naturally composed of thousands of diverse strains that benefit your body. Why should your probiotics be any different? Look for a probiotic supplement with a diverse combination of strains.
No one strain can do it all!
Select a combination of strains that are clinically proven to provide the desire benefits you seek.
The most well-known and proven probiotics to look for are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. A list of common probiotic strains and their reputed benefits can be found here.
The most effective way to optimize your probiotics is to nourish the environment in which they live – your body. You do this by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Supply your body with the healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fiber and prebiotics they need to grow the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Minimize processed foods and refined sugars, which can nourish the potentially pathogenic bacteria in your body.