By Beth Lipton
Have you ever gone to shop for a probiotic, only to stare at a wall (or fridge full) of bottles, each promising a gazillion powerful strains designed to turn you into a superhero?
We have, and it’s frustrating, especially since probiotics are so important and not cheap, so we really feel the pressure to make smart choices.
We tapped experts immersed in the science of probiotics and got their best buying tips, so the next time you head to the health-food store, you can shop with confidence and get your gut in gear.
Tip 1: Better > More
Do you always grab the bottle with the highest “CFU,” figuring more is more, even if you’re not quite sure what CFU means? “CFU stands for ‘colony forming units,’ and is used to quantify how many bacteria in probiotics are capable of dividing and forming colonies,” says Ara Katz, cofounder and co-CEO of Seed. “In terms of the number of CFUs, more is not necessarily better. The more important questions are: What are the strains? Will they survive the en route to the colon?”
Tip 2: How do you know what’s better?
“Find a probiotic that has been tested by an independent third-party lab for survivability,” suggests Tina Anderson, co-founder of Just Thrive. “And one that does not need refrigeration.”
Tip 3: Wait, what? No refrigeration?
“There’s a myth that in order to be a ‘good’ probiotic, it needs to be refrigerated. That’s actually a sign of a weak probiotic,” Anderson says. “If a probiotic needs to be refrigerated, it’s because it is unable to survive room temperature of the store shelf. If a probiotic cannot survive room temperature, then how will it survive the body temperature, which is 98.6ºF, and the acidic environment of the stomach? It simply will not.”
So it’s ok to bypass the fridge when shopping. “Spore probiotics (Bacillus bacteria) are incredibly stable microorganisms. They’re unique because they can withstand baking, boiling, freezing, squeezing, etc., while still retaining their viability,” notes Dr. Nick Bitz, chief scientific officer of youtheory®. “Even under the harshest conditions, spore probiotics always arrive alive in the digestive tract.”
Tip 4: Strain yourself
“When you are looking to buy a probiotic, you need to select one that can support your total gut health. It should have beneficial bacteria that complement each other, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as good yeast that supports the good bacteria while at the same time controlling the bad microbes that can wreak havoc,” says Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum, creator of BIOHM.
Tip 5: Get a good supply
To reap the benefits, make probiotics a regular part of your routine. “It’s important to note that consumed probiotic bacteria create transient colonies,” Katz says. “Taking one probiotic does not create an enduring colony of microbes, which is why regular consumption of probiotics is recommended for optimized health benefits.”
Hungry for more?
- Upgrade Your Probiotics with Prebiotics
- Why Your Gut Controls Your Life
- 5 Surprising Ways to Improve Digestion