I can't say it enough... you need a probiotic.
If you haven't had a chance to read about the beginning of my probiotic fascination, and why probiotics are important, please jump back a page here and check it out.
Just a refresher, I have been preaching gut health for about 3 years now as more and more studies prove that bacteria in our gut is intricately connected with our overall health and wellness. We are talking mood, digestion, weight, skin health...all related to our bacteria that reside in and on our body. Without having a diverse group of healthy bacteria, our overall health can be compromised.
It isn't easy keeping a healthy gut in today's society. The over use of antibiotics, bacteria killing cleaning supplies, and the Standard American Diet (SAD) put us in a bad position when trying to maintain a healthy gut environment with beneficial bacteria. More cases of bad bacterial over-growths like Candida and C. diff are popping up all the time caused by lack of beneficial bacteria keeping the bad guys in check.
Ok, so we need probiotics. Now what?
The natural products industry is growing exponentially. There are hundreds of probiotic supplements and companies on the market, but only dozens are even worth your time of day. Working as a retail buyer in the natural products world, I have been able to gather a few tips and tricks that will make buying probiotics easier. The goal is to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Reading labels and understanding ingredients can be worse that putting together a puzzle... in the dark. Companies like to hide ingredients and make outlandish claims to try to sell, sell, sell at cheap, cheap, cheap. Probiotics are still being researched. Most of the information that people get come directly from the manufacturing companies. Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any probiotic company. The information used here is referenced from being exposed directly to the manufacturing companies in the natural products industry and personal/educational research.
Here are a few tips to help you identify whether a probiotic is worth your time:
1. What other ingredients are in it?
I hate that we even have to ask this question! Supplement companies put a whole bunch of fillers and preservatives into their capsules to make them "last longer". All the while, these chemicals are linked to detrimental health issues. Here is an example... just the other ingredients list from a well known probiotic company on the market (no names):
Microcrystalline cellulose, hypromellose, sucrose, magnesium stearate, sodium caseinate, titanium dioxide (color), trisodium citrate dihydrate, propyl gallate (antioxidant preservative), gellan gum
I can't pronounce half of those ingredients! Titanium dioxide is what makes your sun screen white and has been linked to cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (1). Although, there may not be enough data on the way it is digested and processed, that is enough to not want it in our supplements. Let alone almost all sucrose is genetically modified. The point of the matter is that all of these ingredients are not necessary. They are preservatives that supposedly increase the shelf life or keep the powders in capsules from caking. Here is another example of the other ingredient list from a completely different company:
Other ingredients: vegetable capsule (vegetable fiber and water) and cellulose.
Remarkably different. Simple. Clean. The way everything should be. When choosing a probiotic, the least other ingredients, the better. Notice in the picture below that the other ingredients include only the capsule.
2. Why are some probiotics in the fridge and some are on the shelf?
This question comes up all the time when I am talking with clients about probiotics. It is also a very controversial question in the natural product world. Many years ago (circa 2007), there were few choices for shelf stable probiotic. My first job was in a health food store and it was just not a thing. But the industry found there was a market for the convenience factor in having your supplement with your others versus hidden it in the fridge. Hence, shelf stable formulations. The picture above is actually a product label for a shelf stable probiotic. Notice the label reads "At Expiration Date under recommended storage conditions. Store in a cool, dry place." In other words, if you store your probiotic in cool, dry conditions you will have the claimed number of colony forming units (CFUs) upon the product expiration date. They can legally make those claims if the product has been third party tested.
Probiotics are probiotics. The bacteria cultures do not change based on shelf stable or refrigerated. If it says it has Lactobacillus acidophilus in it, that means it contains that strain of bacteria whether it is on the shelf or in the fridge. Keeping bacteria in a cool, dry environment away from penetrating lighting prolongs the lifespan of the bacteria allowing the supplement to last longer. When kept cold, it slows the metabolism of the bacteria. Think of it as why we put food in the refrigerator - it slows the growth of bacteria allowing it to last longer. Well, keeping bacteria in the fridge, in capsules with no fillers like we talked about, keeps that bacteria from metabolizing, reproducing, and dying off at a faster rate.
On the other hand, shelf stable probiotics typically do have a shorter expiration date on the package. Most companies also change the way the product is packaged to prevent light and moisture from reaching the capsule. When marketing shelf stable probiotics, companies will talk mostly about how well they are packaged, both externally and encapsulated, to remove moisture from reaching the probiotic. If you read the packaging closely, most shelf stable products will also read:
"Do not store in climates over 77 degrees" or "Refrigeration will extend shelf life".
3. How am I to know that my probiotic is good?
Supplement labels have to be carefully written to avoid making false claims. When it comes to all supplements, the rule of thumb is to look for a GMP seal or statement on the box. GMP stands for good manufacturing practice. Another words, they pay for the product to be tested for purity and potency. This is so important to have on a probiotic due to the supplement being live cultures.
This shelf stable probiotic specifically states that when the product was made it had 12 billion active cells (CFUs) per capsule and by the expiry date has minimum 10 billion. Those claims come from extensive testing and following the appropriate storage guidelines as seen listed above. All three product labels make a quality and purity statement of some sort because of appropriate testing. Any probiotic you purchase should provide the same or similar data to show that the company has taken the time to ensure a good product.
There is nothing significantly different about the two forms of supplements other than one lasts longer than the other, and companies market to consumers on convenience. Not a big concern one way or the other. It is what works best for you. If you take your probiotic loyally every day than life expectancy and shelf life isn't going to make much difference. It won't last that long! Yet you want to make sure the company takes the time to test the potency and purity of the supplement, and doesn't put a bunch of junk in it!
Up next in Probiotics 101, I will be breaking down what CFUs really mean and what strains to look for in a good supplement. Stay tuned for fermented foods and a sauerkraut recipe as well!
Until next time, healthy blessings!
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated directly with any probiotic companies. This information is intended for educational use only and is not to treat, diagnose, or cure any disease. Please consult your physician or health care practitioner before starting a new supplement.
(1) Skocaj, M., Filipic, M., Petkovic, J., & Novak, S. (2011). Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe?Â Radiology and Oncology,Â 45(4), 227â€“247. http://doi.org/10.2478/v10019-011-0037-0