• This article will save you an insane amount of time learning the ins & outs of probiotics.
• I spent countless hours/days researching for this article so you wouldn’t have to! ❤️
• Estimated Reading Time : 20-30 Minutes
• This may seem daunting, so feel free to bookmark it or leave the tab open to come back to later.
• Every section is clearly labeled so it’ll be easy to come back to your spot.
Ps. Share with a friend or loved one that is on a probiotic journey, too!
This level has co-op compatibility. Explore & discover the answers to the complex biome of Probiotics together.
With probiotics becoming more and more mainstream through their inclusion in a variety of food, drinks, and the ever popular supplements – interest is piquing and many people may realize that navigating the world of probiotics can be confusing and misleading. Many popular beliefs are actually skewed, outdated, or completely incorrect!
After making a rough draft filled with the most commonly known “facts” about probiotics, nearly every dive into a fact check twisted the narrative and uncovered the truth (along with a few other realizations). What I expected to take a single day to research, write, and publish turned into a better-part-of-a-week journey down a rabbit hole.
This article touches on pretty much every point that you’ll need to know about probiotics – leaving you with the knowledge and confidence needed to identify the right products for you (and to make sure you aren’t wasting your money) !
When diving into the world of probiotics, there are a few key pieces of lingo that you need to understand before taking the plunge. These are very basic descriptions:
Live Microorganisms (aka microbes) are a mixture of bacteria and/or yeast.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that naturally exist in our bodies. They provide a vast amount of health benefits due to their regulation of gut microbiota.
Cultures (aka Microbial Food Cultures) are live microorganisms used to initiate the fermentation process in foods and drinks.
CFU (Colony Forming Units) is the measurement of active, live microorganisms that can be found in each serving of a culture/probiotic. Each microorganism can be considered a cell, and the number represents how many cells exist to multiply and form colonies.
Ps. We talk about CFU a lot, so remember this one!
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria & yeasts) that live in your body and play a vital role in the digestive process. Having healthy digestion is crucial for your overall health and wellness – and can have impacts on nearly every aspect of your body, including mental health.
We’ve grown up believing that bacterias are bad for us and that they can make us ill or even be the cause of serious diseases. That’s only half of the truth though. Probiotics are referred to as “good bacteria”. Similar to the way avocados are considered to be “healthy fat”.
Probiotics exist in many forms, with each strain playing a unique role. In addition to the ones that naturally exist in our body, we can get probiotics through foods, drinks, and supplements (capsules, powders, liquids, gummies).
Not all probiotics or probiotic supplements are created equal, and that’s what we’re going to explore throughout the rest of the article!
The gut is home to a diverse community of microorganisms, known as the gut microbiome, which plays a crucial role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. Consuming an adequate amount of probiotics can help to restore the balance of the gut microbiome.
They promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These microorganisms help to keep harmful pathogens in check, which can reduce the risk of infections and other illnesses.
They have been linked to a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and even certain types of cancer.
Many antibiotics that attack and eliminate bad bacteria, also affect good bacteria (probiotics) and can kill them off at the same time. This will lower the overall health of your gut biome, and increasing your intake of probiotics will help restore the balance much more quickly.
Both of these actions upset the balance of probiotics in your body. When removing a mass amount of substance from your body all at once, it is also removing many of the probiotics that exist within it.
Probiotics have shown to be effective in preventing and treating ulcers that are caused by stress, ethanol, and acetic acid. But are also effective against ulcers caused by NSAIDS (aspirin, indomethacin (139), and ibuprofen).
You don’t need to be ill to benefit from taking probiotics. Whether it be through foods, drinks, or supplements– including probiotics in your daily routine can improve the overall health and well-being of your body and mind!
BEFORE WE DIVE IN TOO DEEP : Not every type of culture/probiotic is vegan-friendly.
Many of the most common supplements include animal products, typically a dairy derivative.
Fortunately, there are plenty of vegan-sourced probiotics to choose from.✌️❤️🌱
We know that both of them are microorganisms that can be found in things that we consume. Does that mean that they are the same and science is just trying to complicate things by having multiple terms for the same thing?
No, but also yes.
Technically, all probiotics are cultures – but not all cultures can be considered probiotics.
The quantity and the type (strain) of microorganism is a huge factor.
Cultures, in their most basic form, are used as an ingredient to enhance the flavor and/or texture of a product – typically to activate fermentation. They solely provide no direct health benefit when consumed.
For a culture to be considered a probiotic, it must have a direct health benefit when consumed. Essentially, if a culture has received a high enough CFU during testing then it graduates to earn the title of probiotic.
Simple? Maybe. Confusing? Maybe.
This is perhaps the least scientific or “professional” way to look at it – but, here it is anyways:
This is a Culture that enjoys cooking, and does it alone. It focuses solely on flavor and texture. It doesn’t care about how nutritious the meal it’s making is. The focus here is indulgence. It’s not that’s it’s necessarily bad for you, it just doesn’t really bring anything extra to the table.
This is a Culture that is a pro at cooking, and has a team alongside. It is a well-versed nutritionist that takes every ingredient into consideration when making a meal. Its aim is to indulge in a manner that fuels the body, rather than just filling it. Key Takeaway: power in numbers & nutritional focus.
If that didn’t simplify things, then just disregard the last 10 seconds of your life – and I’m sorry.
OI VEY… THIS IS WHERE THINGS CAN GET MESSY, BUT IT’S SUPER IMPORTANT!
Whether you just started researching probiotics or have been dabbling for awhile, you’ve probably had the thought.. 💭
The answer to that question is both yes and no.
It’s not quite as straightforward as categorizing all of one type to be superior or inferior to the other
(at least not in today’s age of advancements).
To be completely honest, I believed that refrigerated was the superior product – and I recently had people close to me communicate the same thing. However, while researching, I was surprised (and delighted) by what I had learned.
The biggest determining factors here are the specific probiotic strain(s), the manufacturing process, and the storage throughout its lifecycle. With so many variables, the quality control of a probiotic product is going to differ from brand to brand.
Some stains are naturally shelf-stable. They can thrive and survive in a climate window that doesn’t require refrigeration. Additionally, a company may add other ingredients to help sustain or extend the probiotics’ lifespan and make them more resilient to changes in their climate.
Probiotic strains that require refrigeration may be much more sensitive to their climate and require a lower temperature window to thrive and survive. Alternatively, a probiotic may require refrigeration due to some other ingredient that is added to the product – rather than the strain itself requiring it to survive. But, that is less common and the most likely reason for refrigeration is to help the microorganisms stay alive.
There was a time, mentioned above, that the companies in charge of safely getting the products from the manufacturer to the consumer didn’t even understand the severity of not properly following storage procedures for probiotics.
Probiotic strains can be affected by not just temperature, but also humidity, light, and even oxygen. These factors help decided where a product must be stored, whether it needs to be in a dark bottle, in a capsule, or if they’re stable enough to survive uncoated.
Remember, probiotics are microorganisms that are living! Just as humans require certain variables to survive, so do probiotics. As long as they have been stored within their comfort zone they will remain potent.
Probiotic manufactures have come a long way over the last 10+ years – and the standards they have of their partners (distributors & retailers) are also more strict to ensure that their products’ quality isn’t diminishing after it leaves their possession.
The understanding of probiotics is deeper, the process of creating the supplements has been refined, and the shipping/storage methods have been dialed in. Many brands will have a page on their website that covers their methods of handling, storing, and shipping their products. Here is an example of a company’s process page: Shipping & Storage Information *
*Ps. I don’t have any personal experience with the company linked above– I am not recommending them over another brand.
👀 READ THE LABEL &
Make sure to properly store them as soon as possible!
You’ll typically be storing the probiotics the same way that they were displayed in the store. If you ordered it online and it was delivered in a cold package, then it more than likely needs to be stored in the refrigerator. But, just read the label to verify ( pretty please 🙏 ).
The Simplest Answer Is:
A daily routine is key!
Factor: STORAGE METHOD
The Other Factor: PRICE 💸
The cost of probiotics vary greatly, regardless of shelf or cold. The brand, strain, and CFU level are the main factors. You can find a $12/bottle shelf-stable probiotic and a $50+/bottle shelf-stable probiotic that appear to offer more or less the same thing, just from different brands. There is typically, but not always, a reason that could justify the difference in price – and that’s why researching brands is so important (we’ll be going further into this soon).
It’s not uncommon for refrigerated probiotics to be more expensive than their shelf-dwelling counterparts. This is one reason why people may automatically believe that they are superior.
However, part of that inflated price could be attributed to the additional cost of electricity and specialized equipment that it would take to maintain the products’ ideal cold climate from the manufacturing facilities, to shipping trucks, to warehouses and finally to the stores.
I don’t fault people for thinking that way though – we know that microorganisms are super sensitive to their surroundings, so being in a more controlled environment should stabilize them so they remain potent. But, it’s not like all shelf-stable products are being mishandled along their journey – that would be bad for reputation and bad for business. It’s not as black and white as it may seem, the world of probiotics is full of gray areas.
A company is technically only supposed to claim that their product contains probiotics if it has a high enough number of colony forming units (CFU) at the end of its shelf life. This is measured in specialized labs.
However – if you didn’t know already, probiotic supplements fall under the category of dietary supplements. This category has barely any regulation from the FDA – which is why you have most likely come across “diet pills” that claim they can make you lose 20 pounds in a week (or something absurd like that). Products in this category can usually get away their claims without having scientific testing and proof to back it up. This is why it can be so important to research the companies behind the supplements themselves.
Many will go out of their way to provide test results and other sources in order to build trust and earn a positive reputation. They understand that the market may be full of sketchy products, but know they are doing things correctly and want to prove it to consumers.
Some supplement manufactures will have huge CFU numbers proudly displayed on their labels. The higher the number, the higher the cost (typically). If it’s more expensive, that must mean that it’s healthier for me, too– right?
Unfortunately, no – bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to probiotics. The advertised CFU on the label won’t necessarily match the CFU of the probiotic by the time you take them.
The key thing to pay attention to is how the CFU is labeled, or more importantly, if it’s not included on the label at all.
If a product doesn’t list the CFU count and only lists the required weight, I would be a little hesitant to purchase it. After all, microorganisms must be alive when ingested in order to provide health benefits.
The best thing that you could find listed on a bottle would be the CFU at the END of the product’s shelf life (but this isn’t as common).
If the measure is taken on the date that it was manufactured, it will be much, much higher than the actual amount when it’s finally in your possession. Over the lifespan of a probiotic product, even when properly handled and stored, the CFU will decrease and could decrease by millions or even billions.
The second best would be the CFU listed at the time of manufacturing.
You’ll typically see an *asterisk after the CFU* – so be sure to look over the label and read any of those disclaimers. This is where many companies will state where that measurement came from – and any other important information.
For example, a probiotic bottle that I was looking over actually listed a higher CFU in this small text and labeled it as the rating at the time of manufacturing. They chose to advertise a smaller CFU as the official measurement, most likely to offset some of the microorganisms that may not survive the entire shelf life. Which seems to be a decently good practice for transparency.
With a large number of people taking probiotics today, there are so many variables, and people may have different experiences than others. Research is still ongoing, and that’s why probiotics can be difficult to navigate– there are no universal guidelines that are accepted by everyone. That’s why you’re still reading this article ( appreciate you <3 ) and I had to do an insane amount of research to get to this point. Yet, I still can’t tell you for certain an exact strength and regularity that should be taken.
With that said, below is a recap of the 20+ articles that I read on this subject:
Depending on the person, the goal, and the probiotic strain, the recommended daily amount of CFU can vary greatly. Also, depending on who you ask, including doctors, they will have different recommendations.
While researching, these are just some of the recommendations that I came across:
The conclusion that I came up with after absorbing all this research is:
Unless your gut biome is greatly out of balance, for one reason or another, 10-20 billion CFU should be a sufficient amount for a generally healthy person to regulate their system. It appeared that the majority of studies also agreed with this amount. With that said, I’ve used probiotics rated at 50 billion CFU for an extended period of time without any adverse side effects, so do with that as you will.
Additionally, if you are using probiotics to treat a condition, you may require a large CFU during the initial phase and could begin reducing the daily amount as your health restores. It would be best to consult with an expert in this case.
It’s not a bad idea to start with a lower CFU dose, and gradually increase the amount as your body acclimates to the additional probiotics in your gut biome.
Refer to the label on the supplement container for the most accurate directions. Many probiotics have the same guidelines, but it can vary.
Example of Common Once & Twice A Day Directions:
As research continues on the subject, we’ll learn more and more. But, there have been some claims of negative side effects after starting a probiotic supplement routine.
Some of the symptoms of overloading your system are actually very similar to the symptoms that occur when your gut biome is off, due to not enough probiotics in your system. It’s all about finding a healthy balance.
Keep in mind that changes in your stool pattern immediately after starting probiotics may be normal. This can be a sign that the probiotics are working and that your gut biome is actively changing for the better. However, things should balance out to a comfortable level shortly after.
If the side-effects persist for an unreasonable amount of time, you should reevaluate your dosage and decrease the amount – or seek expert medical advice.
This is more or less the final step in understanding the world of probiotics, and arguably the most important. You can be taking an adequate CFU of probiotics daily, but if you aren’t taking the strains that you need the most then there may not be any apparent benefits.
Now that you understand what probiotics are and how they affect the human body, we’re going to go one step deeper. This will help you make sense of the strains listed in a product – by being able to identify where the probiotic lives in your body, some of the health benefits it can have, and how to research and identify the probiotic strains that you could benefit from the most.
Before we dive into the details, we’re going to go over some lingo real quick (again).
I related each category to that of the [ Animal Kingdom ] to help put things into perspective.
* There is technically one more level of categorization, between species & strain, known as a subspecies (subsp.) Not every probiotic product will list a specific strain, but you can still learn a lot about the microorganisms at this level. You may find some probiotics that break it down like: Genus Species Subspecies
The most commonly known and most understood genera (plural of genus) of probiotics are:
The two genera vary in both the location in which they exist in your body, as well as in some of their functions. They do share some of the same health benefits, but their classifications remain different due to their proximity and the way they interact with other things in their biomes.
Comprised of 170 Different Known Species
Plays Major Roles In :
Comprised of 80 Different Known Species
Plays Major Roles In :
🔬 Science hasn’t discovered or had the chance to research every single strain in existence – but studies have shown that nearly 8,000 different strains may exist. That number could surely grow over time.
This is where that classification structure can be applied in the real world.
Understanding that will help immensely during the research process.
If you want to focus on a specific benefit, for example: psychological health, then you would do research to identify the strain(s) that are responsible for that. After a few clicks through health blogs and scientific journals to verify, you come up with something like this:
Bifidobacterium breve CCFM1025, currently undergoing studies, has displayed positive affects in regards to regulating depression.
Many of the scientific studies that exist aren’t exactly the easiest thing to interpret, but it’s good that we have access to them. This allows us to verify claims made by product manufacturers.
In short, to get the most out of your probiotics, you really need to outline the health goals that you have for yourself, research the various strains to identify the ones that align with your goals, do your best to figure out the daily recommended intake for them, and finally, find a reputable probiotic company to put your trust in!
You can get supplements that contain a single strain and supplements that contain a variety of strains. It seems like supplements containing a variety of strains are the most common. You could choose to take a multi-strain supplement to meet the “basic” needs for digestion, then seek out individual strain supplements to focus on your specific needs.
Some people prefer to get their vitamins, nutrients, and probiotics from food rather than supplements. That is a totally valid choice. But there are a few things to keep in mind along the way.
In regards to foods that we typically associate with being probiotic-rich, the outcome varies depending on the brand or specific product. As we learned wayyyy back at the beginning of this deep dive – not all cultures are equal, or the processes in which they are used.
Fermented doesn’t automatically mean that a product contains probiotics. 😱
The end result may not contain enough microorganisms to provide any probiotic health benefits. This could be due to the type of culture used, the chosen fermentation process, or something else – such as pasteurizing the product.
🤐 For various reasons, a food/beverage company may not disclose the CFU or the strains used in their probiotic product.
However, it’s still a great decision to include probiotic-rich foods and drinks in your daily diet, as they can still have positive impacts and help digest the very product you’re consuming. But, it doesn’t hurt to include some supplements as well if you feel like they’re right for you!
Keeping all the previous information in mind – these are some of the main foods that we associate with being probiotic-rich (but that really comes down to the brand or even specific product) :
In conclusion, probiotic-rich foods and supplements play a vital role in maintaining overall health and well-being. Incorporating these products into your diet can provide a wide range of health benefits, including: improved digestion, a stronger immune system, mental health, and a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases.