By now, most people know that probiotics are good for them and that they can improve so many areas of health – from the digestive tract, to the cardiovascular system, to even the brain! But as more information becomes circulated regarding probiotic products and probiotic applications, misinformation comes with it. Here are a few myths that we felt needed clarification:
Myth #1: All probiotics must be kept in the refrigerator
While this myth comes from good intention, it’s not entirely accurate. Probiotics are living bacteria. Like all bacteria, they have optimal temperatures to breed and survive. Certainly at extremely high temperatures, bacteria will die off more rapidly. But that doesn’t mean that room temperature absolutely can’t sustain probiotic life long enough for you to take your supplements and still get the health benefits. The key point is this: every probiotic has a decay rate that is unique to that specific strain(s) of bacteria. Some probiotics may decay rapidly at room temperature whereas others decay quite slowly.
Knowing that all probiotics lose potency over time, this presents a challenge to the companies that are producing the probiotics. All companies have the responsibility to ensure that the number of colony forming units (CFU) for each probiotic strain found in a capsule matches the advertised amount on the label. In order to ensure effective doses, regulatory bodies allow for an excess CFU count to be added to the capsule when it is made so that by the time they expire, there are still adequate numbers. As an example, if you have a supplement with 10 billion CFU on the label, it was likely originally made with anywhere between 15 and 25 billion CFU, based on a known decay curve.
So, strains and probiotic products do exist that can be stored at room temperature and still retain colony count until expiry as long as they are properly stored in a cool, dry place with a known decay rate. You really need to read the label and/or inquire with the company producing the product to ensure proper storage for best shelf-life.
Myth #2: More strains and more CFU’s per day means better results
There is a common school of thought with probiotics that “more is better” - in fact, it’s a common belief for most aspects of life – but it is not so black and white in the world of bacteria. It is not uncommon to see products advertising the high CFU count of 50 billion or even 100 billion per capsule. Moreover, a common marketing point is the great diversity of strains: 7, 10, 12 different strains per capsule. In theory, these are both good things. But what do we really know about the interactions between bacterial strains within the body? What about the relationship between 12 different strains in one capsule? Perhaps one strain feeds off the other 11 and ends up killing them quite quickly. Unfortunately, we often don’t have enough data and research to definitively say how these combination probiotics work together – or against one another.
The Bio-Three probiotic blend out of Japan is a prime example to support the fact that you don’t need extremely high CFU numbers or a huge variety of strains for a high quality, effective probiotic. This blend of probiotics contains a total of 48 million (not billion – 48 million) CFU’s and only 3 different symbiotic strains per capsule. Yet, it is actually one of the most well-studied and beneficial probiotics available on the market according to over 60 years of research in over 30 clinical studies. Despite only having 3 strains and 48 million CFU’s, Bio-Three has been shown to improve ulcerative colitis symptoms, lower cholesterol, reduce allergies, improve immune function, and improve digestive discomfort such as bloating, constipation and traveller’s diarrhea.
Myth #3: All probiotics must have an enteric coating to survive the harsh environment of the stomach
Certain companies that sell enteric-coated probiotics will claim that you must coat the good bacteria in order to properly deliver them to the small and large intestine. If this were true, you would not hear the hundreds and thousands of personal success stories after using various probiotic products. It is true that a portion of the bacteria will die in the stomach acid, but once again this is strain specific and in most cases another portion will survive and continue into the small intestine. Bio-Three is again a great example to support this. How would so many human clinical trials show improvement in disease markers after supplementation if a significant amount of the probiotic strains didn’t survive? Clearly, the bacteria are getting past the stomach and deep within the digestive tract.
Some probiotic strains have been studied specifically to demonstrate survival throughout the digestive tract. One such example is Lactobacillus casei R-215. Supplementation with this bacteria can effectively colonize the gastrointestinal tract and reduce colonization by Candida species. Another strain shown to survive the harsh environment of the digestive tract is Lactobacillus gasseri. This species of lactobacillus improves intestinal habits in healthy adults and possesses immunomodulatory effects by increasing two types of white blood cells known as monocytes and neutrophils. The presence of L. gasseri in the rectum also helps to maintain vaginal microflora in women and decreases the risk of bacterial vaginosis. Both of these probiotic strains have demonstrated survival and transit throughout the digestive tract.
Myth #4: All probiotics provide the same health benefits
By now, hopefully you recognize that there isn’t much logic behind this type of thinking. Specific strains have been studied for specific conditions and circumstances. It’s crucial to choose a probiotic that has clinical data to support its claims for specific health conditions. For example, you should not necessarily be supplementing the same probiotic for your IBS symptoms and your chronic yeast infections. Instead, target your treatments and find a probiotic that is specific for your health concern.
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Olivares M, Diaz-Ropero MP, Gomez N, Lara-Villoslada F, Sierra S, Maldonado JA, Martin R, Rodriguez JM, Xaus J. The consumption of two new probiotic strains, Lactobacillus gasseri CECT 5714 and Lactobacillus coryniformis CECT 5711, boosts the immune system of healthy humans. Int Microbiol. 2006 Mar;9(1):47-52.
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