1) Some Probiotic Strains Are Better Than Others
Yes and no. The biggest problem is that while probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestinal tract, there are trillions of organisms in your intestinal tract and dozens if not hundreds of different strains of good bacteria there as well. As a result, it’s impossible to say for certain which particular probiotic strain is “best” because it varies greatly from one person to the next. What’s ideal for you will be different than what’s ideal for your neighbor, because your two bodies maintain differing levels of those trillions of organisms. This is also a big reason why most people prefer probiotic combination formulas like Dr. Stephen Langer’s Ultimate 16 Strain Probiotic instead of formulas offering just one or two strains of probiotics.
One thing that makes it even more confusing is advertising. Company A may promote a study done on their product suggesting that the single strain they are using is the “most important” or “best strain” compared to any other—this can even confuse the health professionals. Studies are good to show a benefit for a product, but some are designed to show a specific result that virtually any probiotic will offer. When that information isn’t shared (that the one particular study could’ve been done on any strain and likely show the same outcome), it makes the highlighted product look unique and different when in reality it’s unlikely any different than a hundred other strains.
2) All Probiotics Need to Be Refrigerated
The need for refrigeration will vary from product to product, so it’s important to pay attention to the label. If it doesn’t say anything about refrigeration, you can assume it’s not needed. Next time you wonder "do probiotics need to be refrigerated?" simply take a look at the label of the product you are ordering or already have.
Twenty years ago, it was commonly understood that if the probiotics weren’t refrigerated, there was a good chance that the bacteria would die off. However, technology has been developed that allows today’s probiotics to be stable at room temperature… it’s kind of like suspended animation instead of cold storage.
Unfortunately, that old idea was so prevalent that many people to this day still do not trust a probiotic that wasn’t refrigerated. As a result, some companies continue to offer probiotics that need to be refrigerated, further perpetuating this myth. The simple answer is if the bottle says to refrigerate, then it should be refrigerated; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. At this point it’s entirely personal preference whether or not you choose a probiotic that requires refrigeration.
3) If You Can’t Feel Them Working, Probiotics Are Dead
There is an easy way to test the activity of a probiotic when you get it… make a batch of yogurt from one of the pills! There are various recipes online that you can find to make yogurt from a capsule, and it’s the best way to ensure that the bacteria are viable without guessing. Here’s a great vegan yogurt recipe that uses coconut:
- 3/4 to 1 cup coconut water
- 16 ounces (453 grams) raw coconut meat
- Probiotic powder (approximately 2 capsules worth)
- Blend the coconut water and coconut meat until smooth.
- Add the probiotic powder (simply open the capsules and dump the contents into the blender) and blend briefly.
- Pour into a bowl (or jar) big enough to allow a bit of room to expand. Gently place a lid on top and set your coconut yogurt to culture on your counter for 8-16 hours. The longer it cultures, the more yogurt-y it becomes in taste.
- When you’re ready to eat it, feel free to sweeten it and/or add extracts like vanilla, fresh fruit, etc.
NOTE: Yogurt will culture faster in warmer weather so the culturing time may vary. If you live in a cooler climate, you may want to use a temperature controlled yogurt maker. Once cultured, this yogurt will keep for up to seven days in a sealed container in the fridge.
4) Probiotic Supplements Must Be Enteric Coated
There has been a lot of research on this question, and you’d be surprised by the findings: research has shown that probiotics are better without the special coatings.
In nearly all cases, they come in capsules that are designed to withstand stomach acids in order to deliver the probiotics to the right place within your GI tract, but enteric coating is actually not the best solution. And here’s why...
It's kind of an odd statement, since the enteric coating prevents the probiotic capsule from breaking down in the stomach (too soon to be effective). But the enteric coating process requires a lot of heat, and that heat can destroy some of the probiotics before you even get the product.
So if you start with an equal amount of probiotics in two different pills and have one of them enteric coated, the one without the coating will have a better result in the intestinal tract (when taken with food) than the one that's enteric coated. That's the main reason why most of our Swanson Probiotics are not enteric coated unless the strains are more resistant to heat than they are to stomach acid.
5) I Don’t Need Probiotics... I Eat Yogurt
There are a couple things wrong with this assumption. For starters, you need to pay close attention to the nutrition facts label on your yogurt to make sure what you’re eating isn’t loaded up with added sugar. Obviously, a carefully formulated probiotic supplement isn’t going to contain hidden calories like some yogurts do.
Then the question really becomes how much beneficial gut bacteria you are really getting from yogurt. There are a couple of brands that have plunked down quite a bit of money on short studies so they can show some benefits from consumption of their yogurt, but the participants in those studies ate the yogurt a few times each day.
So unless you plan on eating a few cups of yogurt every day, you’re not likely to see the same benefits or gain any sort of regular digestive support. Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, deliver carefully measured daily servings of probiotics in much higher concentrations. If regular maintenance is what you’re after, a high quality probiotic formula may be the better choice.
What’s your take? Do you take probiotics on a regular basis? What results have you experienced?