What to Look for in a Probiotic

Are all probiotics created equal? The short answer is no. And this gets a little tricky as the supplement industry isn’t regulated by the FDA (food and drug administration – the organization that puts new pharmaceutical drugs on the market through rigorous testing to ensure you’re getting what you think you’re getting). So rather than focus on one single brand that’s right for you, here are five things I consider when purchasing a probiotic.

Does the company strain specify/verify?

Aka, do they list the specific strains that are in the probiotic on the bottle. Some studies have shown that 90% of probiotic products tested contained strains that were not listed on the label and even had variations in the types of strains found in the product from pill to pill in a single bottle. If you’re looking for a probiotic to help with specific symptom, you may want to think about searching for a brand that contains that strain. Some strains have been specifically tested to see if they can survive the stomach’s acidic environment, so look out for those ones, particularly the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains ( 1 ). Though it’s not just about the species. Each specific strain should be clinically studied and shown beneficial. For a list of probiotic strains linked to conditions and results, click here.

How many strains?

This is often referred to as colony forming units, which is the best estimate of the number of living microorganisms in a sample. Oftentimes we care more about quality than quantity. But I learned as a general rule, you want something in the billion range. And this means for EVERY strain that’s in the probiotic. The most reliable ones are the ones that have been studied and shown to have benefits in humans.

Does it need to be refrigerated?

Often needing a refrigerator doesn’t necessarily mean it’s higher quality or fresher. If the probiotic can’t survive regular temperature, it also may not be able to survive the harsh, highly acidic environment of the stomach. Therefore, the product may have a low strain count or weak stability. Make sure to look for the storage information prior to buying. Also look at the packaging itself. Some are stored in dark or amber glass to protect from degradation. Others are in something called “stability shield” to increase viability. Either way, it’s probably a good idea to keep them in their original packaging, rather than stored in a clear supplement pill box. 

How does it guarantee reaching the colon?

There are a few different ways a company can market this.

  1. spore-forming or ground-based probiotic strains, as the endospores that encapsulate the strains are highly resistant to stomach acid. This potentially increases the delivery of more viable probiotics to the intestines
  2. technology in the outer capsule: some companies utilize technology to safeguard the internal contents of the probiotic 
  3. independent testing: the Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME®), for example, is used by some companies and is aimed to recreate the physiological conditions and biological processes of the stomach to ensure ample delivery.

Regardless of how they do it, there should be some mention of increased viability on the packaging.

What else is in there?

Be mindful of what goes into the capsule and the added ingredients, especially if you have allergies or dietary preferences.

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