Selecting a probiotic can seem like a challenge. Nobody wants to spend money on dead probiotics and identifying which one will be alive, never mind worrying about which will be more potent or will be more effective than the next, can be a difficult maze to navigate. With so many avenues and potential pitfalls, how are you supposed to determine which probiotic will work best for you?
We've identified a few factors that can help you discover a probiotic that will best suits your needs. Whether you’re looking to combat occasional diarrhea or constipation, gas and bloating, or just to help improve your overall health and support your immune system, following these 6 steps will help you choose the best probiotic supplement for you and your family.
Research the best probiotic strains
The first step to choosing the right probiotic begins at home. Each probiotic strain functions uniquely within the confines of the digestive tract so it is important to know exactly what strains are in the product you're purchasing and how they might affect your body. This is true of any supplement but doubly so for probiotics.
FDA regulations require probiotic all probiotic manufacturers to publish a list of strains on the supplement label. However, they do not require manufacturers to publish strain designations and designations matter.
For example, most of us are familiar with Lactobacillus acidophilus because it's commonly found in yogurt but did you know that there are different types of Lactobacillus acidophilus? L. acidophilus alone contains strain designations LA-1, LA-5, DDS-1, LA-14, and, most famously, L. acidophilus NCFM. You can read more about L. acidophilus here.
Beyond individual strain research, some additional questions you might consider:
- Are the bacteria listed on your supplement of human origin or are they soil based?
- Have any studies by peer reviewed journals evaluated the strains found in this product?
- What are the additives and other ingredients?
Don't rely on pop culture talking heads to tell you what product is the best for you. Do your own research and make your own assessment of which product is going to provide the greatest benefit for you. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask!
Check the CFU (Colony Forming Units)
Always check to see if the CFU listed on the bottle are guaranteed at date of manufacture or guaranteed through the product's expiration. Why does this matter? Because there's not much sense in buying a probiotic that's mostly dead before you use it.
Additionally, be wary of "proprietary blends." If a product says it contains 30 billion total CFU of probiotic strains X, Y, and Z but doesn't list individual counts, you can't be sure how much of each you're ingesting. If you think a product is unconscionably cheap, it's usually because they put in large numbers of the least expensive and least effective probiotic available and supplement it with small quantities of the other bacteria listed.
Regarding dosing, you should look for a probiotic that contains 10 billion or more CFU per serving. Probiotics Guide has an excellent breakdown on how many CFU might be right for you.
Can your probiotic bypass stomach acid?
It's well known that the stomach is a harsh environment that's largely inhospitable to bacteria. While digesting food, the pH of your stomach can drop as low as pH 1.0. That's 10 million times more acidic than water!
In order for the probiotics to reach their final destination, they have to be able to bypass that acidic environment in order to reach your intestinal tract in tact so they can begin to colonize. Without protection, either in the form of a delayed release capsule or another method, 99 to 99.99999% of the bacteria you ingest will die before they ever reach the intestinal tract. Considering your G.I. Tract is home to 100 trillion bacteria, a few million isn't enough bacteria to make a lasting impression on your digestive system.
To put it in perspective, let's say the probiotic you're looking at contains 300 billion CFU of probiotic bacteria but does not have any way to safely escort them through the stomach. After 90 minutes in this environment, only 3 billion CFU will make it through. And that's the best case scenario!
Ensuring that the probiotics have safe passage through the stomach is more important than the listed CFU count. If you're torn between a 30 billion CFU probiotic with protection and a 300 billion CFU probiotic without, the 30 billion probiotic will actually deliver more bacteria to your digestive tract.
Does it contain prebiotic nutrition?
A good prebiotic will stimulate the growth of your probiotic exponentially.
Food sources of prebiotics include chicory root, asparagus, garlic, leeks, and dandelion greens; however, it's not functional to include them inside a probiotic capsule. Many companies use FOS, which is shorthand for Fructooligosaccharides, a low weight fiber. It is naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables but artificial sources are known to cause bloating when taken in excess, so be careful!
In encapsulation, there are only a handful of prebiotics that function effectively in milligram doses. Inulin is commonly marketed as functional prebiotic nutrition in probiotic supplements but it is not effective at stimulating growth within the confines of an individual capsule.
Living microorganisms found in yogurt and other cultured foods may help improve your body's bacterial environment inside and out. They're called probiotics, a name that means "for life."
-- Harvard Health
Check out the packaging!
Ultraviolet light is harmful to many bacterial species so it's important to be sure that they're kept in a darkened environment to be sure that you're getting the healthiest bacteria possible. Additionally, check for oxygen and water absorption packets: the 3 things bacteria need to grow are water, food, and a sustained warm environment so it's important to limit their access to the above as much as possible.
Moisture control is critical to the long term survival of probiotic supplements because, as freeze dried organisms, the first thing they need to propagate is a source of water. Plastic bottles will allow moisture and oxygen to seep inside so look for a supplement packaged in an opaque glass bottle.
Is your probiotic kept refrigerated?
This question can be both the easiest and hardest to determine.
When shopping in a store, a quick trip to the refrigerated section will answer your question. If you find a probiotic supplement that it is not kept refrigerated or the label reads that the product doesn't need refrigeration, you can be certain that it's not going to be as potent as a product that is stored in a cold environment (except for soil-based and yeast-based probiotics).
When shopping online, our only suggestion is to contact the company or third party reseller to learn more about their storage environment. If they refrigerate or freeze, then it's typically safe to order as any heat encountered during shipping will be brief and should not impact the viability of the product.
Because the bacteria in a probiotic supplement are alive, refrigeration keeps the bacteria inside your product in stasis – the cold slows down the bacteria's natural metabolic processes which allows the product to retain its potency for a longer period of time.
Our three probiotic formulas, Theralac®, TruBifido®, and TruFlora® adhere to these guidelines. We store every one of our probiotics in our Victoria, MN warehouse in freezers at or below -10°F (-23°C) to guarantee delivery of the freshest and highest quality probiotic available. Each bottle is made from amber glass and contains water and oxygen absorption packets. Thanks to our Totally Inert Packaging®, we don't include a cold pack during transit when you order online through us! Learn more about the impact of heat on probiotics here.
Additionally, Theralac, TruBifido, and TruFlora list the strain and CFU counts of each probiotic species on the side of every bottle. We also offer the ability to check plate counts, tests for microbial purity, and a certificate of analysis, performed by an independent, third party laboratory, for every batch of probiotics we have ever produced. This enables you to be 100% certain that the product you receive is not only fresh and viable, but safe as well. Check out our quality control page to learn more.
Lastly, Theralac contains 7 different patents relating to prebiotic nutrition and Acid Proof® delivery. The prebiotic we include in every bottle of our is known as LactoStim® and we provide proof that not only does it improve the growth of our products exponentially, but when combined with our competitor's products, will improve their growth exponentially as well. Finally, our Acid Proof delivery system guarantees that the large majority of the probiotics contained in each capsule will safely reach their destination.
This gives us the ability to provide fantastic value. Since we formulate each capsule over the listed amounts, the 30 billion CFU per capsule that we list is the quantity that is guaranteed through expiration. For example, one bottle of Theralac costs $47.95 and contains 30 capsules. Thanks to our Acid Proof delivery system, you spend $0.05 per billion CFU delivered throughout the life of a bottle.
If you assume our best case scenario in our competitors products (which lack our delivery system), and assume you're paying $24.99 for a bottle with 30 capsules, each said to contain 100 billion CFU, for the 1 billion effective CFU in each capsule, you are paying $0.86 per billion CFU delivered (since 99% to 99.99% die in the stomach acid if there's no protection). So not only is Theralac the most potent probiotic, it is also one of the most cost effective probiotics as well!
Because we go to such great lengths to protect and promote quality probiotic supplementation, not only are we 100% confident that we have the most effective, and most potent probiotics; but, for the reasons listed above, we believe that our probiotics are the most effective probiotic supplements available anywhere.
Use the coupon code MSI16 to save 15% on your opening order!