Getting the most benefit from your probiotic means finding a researched, tested, guaranteed viable, safe, and pure product. Speak to the source, and know what to look for.
1. Look online or in-store. In-store, my choice is to head to the cooler.
2. Consider packaging. Insulation from moisture, heat, and light? If not, none of the rest matters! Protect them: bottles of thick dark glass with metal lids, stuffed with rayon and desiccant pouches are best. New blister pack styles also work. Powder is more protected in capsules.
3. Read the label. Check: Number of live, viable cells guaranteed at expiration—THE most important factor. In Canada, the amount at expiration is always on the front, in the US, it may not be.
Storage requirements: At what temperature does the guarantee apply?
Identifies genus (ex. Lactobacillus) species (ex. acidophilus) and strain (ex. HA-115): Quality products are specific—not all strains offer equal benefits.
Strains of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium geneses: This reduces competition to populate one area, and offers different, broader benefits.
Human-adapted strains: With so many well studied, clinically trialed, human adapted probiotics there is no need to mess around with species that do not normally implant and adhere to the human GI tract. Spore-producing or soil bacteria are not shown to be safe or superior (1) , they are simply convenient and easy for the manufacturer.
Strain proportion: More bifido if constipated, more acidophilus if fighting germs.
5-8 strains: Provides digestive tract variety but enough of each strain to be effective.
Ingredients: Probiotics are ‘medicinals’. Foods they grew in—like soy—are ‘non-medicinals’ and barely remain. Capsule ingredients—like vegetarian hemi-cellulose or animal gelatin—are ‘non-medicinals’. To understand other ingredients; Manufacturing Aids – like milk peptides – or Prebiotics – like potato starch, speak to the maker.
Which leads us to…
4. Ask questions: Before you buy, call the company, or ask a well-educated health store owner or healthcare practitioner to ensure thorough research, testing and viable formulas:
Characterization is identifying and validating each strain. It is not always done. It allows careful strain selection, and is vital for every other aspect of probiotic quality assurance.
Testing: Lab testing can determine resistance to gastric acid, bile, digestive enzymes and pancreatic juice, ensuring strains hardy enough to pass safely to the small and large intestine where they are most active. Arguably, this is the most important aspect in choosing one. Regardless of the product you select; if it fails here, you may waste your money, ingest dead bacteria, or have them die from your stomach acid.
When testing is absent or the strains fail: Some manufacturers attempt to protect frail probiotics in enteric-coated capsules and then say they are superior. These coatings can contain plasticizers, and they retain moisture! (2) Moisture reactivates the bacteria that was made dormant by freeze-drying, causing them to die prematurely.
Proven delivery: Choose strains that will survive based on testing. This superior method is reliable, and as capsules and coatings are not necessary, allows freedom to take products out of capsules, sprinkled into your smoothie or right into your mouth.
Viable formulas: Multi-strain formulas can deliver greater benefit through synergy between strains of bacteria (3), only after isolating, assessing, combining, and evaluating hundreds of strains and combinations. This work will ensure the strains in a formula are harmonious and not detrimental to each other.
Quality Assurance Stability Studies: Without temperature control probiotics die. Packaging technologies slow die-off, and some strains withstand warmth better than others, but refrigeration ensures maximum potency and stability of all formulas, even ‘shelf stable’ ones. There have been a lot of advances in delivery systems in recent years, but this remains true. Stability studies tell us what to expect.
What about Udo’s Choice?
Udo’s Choice Probiotics (US/CA) proudly uses accurate and specific methods of testing, the best packaging and well-researched formula blends. Despite the increased time, expense and knowledge, we ensure a high percentage of bacteria reach the intestines alive, and implant and adhere to human digestive tracts. Our stability studies show losses of 1% per day unrefrigerated, 2% per month refrigerated, and less when frozen. And, you can open the capsules if you wish, they are proven to survive without them.
1. Sanders, M.E., Morelli, L. and Tompkins, T.A. Sporeformers as Human Probiotics: Bacillus, Sporolactobacillus, and Brevibacillus. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2003, Vol. 2. doi: 10.1111.
2. Hermelin, Victor M. Enteric Coated Tablets and Methods of Making the Same. 2,714,084 USA, July 26, 1955. Grant.
3. Chapman CM et al.. In vitro evaluation of single- and multi-strain probiotics: Inter-species inhibition between probiotic strains, and inhibition of pathogens. Anaerobe. 2012 Aug;18(4):405-13. doi: 10.1016/j.anaerobe.2012.05.004. Epub 2012 Jun 4.
About the author
Holistic Nutritionist Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP has a passion for helping others break through their blocks to greater health, wealth and happiness, working with transformational mind-body tools. The Vancouver-based educator and coach answers your questions in English, French and Spanish as a Specialist working in the Product Information Department at Flora, and is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog.