Probiotic supplementation has become very popular within just the past few years. Demand is so great that hundreds of products are now available to satisfy it.
As you might expect, the wide variety of products reflects an equally wide range of quality among them.
How do you choose a top one out of so many choices?
The key to making a good choice rests on the two main features of probiotic supplements. The first is the dosage. The second is bacterial diversity.
Both dosage and diversity should be clearly stated on the product label. Here is what you should look for.
- Dosage is measured in colony-forming units (CFUs). Each CFU represents a separate microbe that will grow and reproduce in your GI tract.
- Dosages range from a low of around one billion CFUs to a high of 450 billion. The low end is far too low to do much good. It is typically what you find in low-cost products and in probiotic “enhanced” foods such as yogurt.
The high end is only available in a prescription medical probiotic. It is hard to find and costs much more than over-the-counter supplements.
The “sweet spot” for dosage based on most research is in the tens of billions of CFUs per serving. Typically this means 40-50 billion. That is the target dosage that will do you the most good.
Bacterial diversity, likewise, ranges from a low to a high. The lowest number is one – meaning only a single bacterial species. The highest number of species in any supplement will be 10-12. Their scientific names should be clearly listed on the product label so you can easily count how many it contains.
When it comes to selecting a top probiotic supplement, dosage and diversity reign supreme.
What about products that have to be refrigerated vs. those that do not?
This is a matter of how the bacteria are prepared for packaging. Some supplements are made from cultures that are harvested and handled in cold to keep them alive.
It is a challenging process to get such products to market because they have to be kept cold at all times. Even a few hours at room temperature can destroy them.
In contrast, bacteria are easily put into suspended animation by freeze-drying.
This is how researchers keep cultures in storage for future studies. In fact, the national collection of bacteria, called the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), does exactly that with all research-level cultures.
Freeze-dried bacteria come alive again once they hit an environment where they can grow. This property of bacteria makes them easier and more convenient to handle, since they don’t have to be kept cold.
They are still alive, just not active.
You can store them at room temperature, pop them into your mouth whenever you want, and the bacteria quickly resuscitate in your GI tract to the CFUs that you need for a healthy dose of beneficial microbes.