Adding a probiotic to your nutritional routine is an excellent way to support your digestive and immune health while boosting overall wellness. But there’s a lot of information out there about probiotics, and almost every product claims to be the best at what it does. So, how do you know what’s true? And what are the most important things to know about probiotics? Let’s bust some of the most common probiotic myths.
1) Some Probiotic Strains Are Better Than Others
Are some probiotic strains better than others? Yes and no. 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 probiotic strain is “best” because it varies significantly from one person to the next.
Everyone’s gut microbiome is different depending on diet, genes, climate, age, the acidity of our digestive tract and countless other variables—and our microbiomes are continually shifting.1 The best probiotic for you will also depend on why you are using a probiotic in the first place since different probiotic strains may benefit your health in different ways.
So, what’s ideal for you will be different from what’s ideal for your neighbor. This is also a big reason why most people prefer probiotic combination formulas like Swanson Ultra Probiotic Complex, which contains 25 different probiotic strains for digestive and immune support, instead of supplements offering just one or two strains of probiotics.
Advertising can make choosing a probiotic even more confusing. For example, company A may promote a study done on their product suggesting that the single strain in their product is the “most important” or “best strain” compared to any other—this can even confuse some health professionals. Studies are good for demonstrating a benefit of a product, but some studies are designed to show a specific result, even if virtually any probiotic would offer that same result. When that information isn’t shared publicly (that the particular study could’ve used any strain and likely result in the same outcome), it makes the highlighted product look unique when in reality it isn’t any different from a hundred other strains.
The bottom line is that the best probiotic for you may not be the same probiotic that is best for someone else. If you need help finding the best probiotic for your needs, read The 4 Steps to Choosing a Probiotic for You, or take our probiotic quiz.
2) All Probiotics Need to Be Refrigerated
Do probiotics need to be refrigerated? Some of them do, but it isn’t as common as it used to be. The need for refrigeration will vary from product to product, so it’s important to pay attention to the label. If the label doesn’t say anything about refrigeration, you can assume that it is shelf-stable and refrigeration isn’t needed.
Twenty years ago, it was commonly understood that if probiotics weren’t refrigerated there was a good chance the bacteria would die off. However, technological advancements allow most of today’s probiotics to remain stable at room temperature.
Unfortunately, that old idea was so prevalent that some people still do not trust a probiotic that isn’t refrigerated. As a result, some companies continue to offer probiotics that need to be refrigerated, perpetuating this myth.
The simple answer is to read the bottle. If the bottle says to refrigerate, then it should be refrigerated; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. At this point it is entirely personal preference whether or not you choose a probiotic that requires refrigeration.
3) If You Can’t Feel Them Working, Probiotics Are Dead
You won’t usually feel results from probiotics instantly, and the same goes for many natural supplements. Changes in your body can take time. How long does it take for probiotics to work? It depends on your unique microbiome and the probiotic you are taking. Sometimes it takes a few weeks of taking probiotics regularly to see changes, and others may notice benefits in a few hours.
In the meantime, how do you find out if your probiotics are alive? If you have doubts about your probiotic pills or are worried that an old probiotic in your cabinet has expired, there‘s an easy way to find out—make a batch of yogurt from the pills!
There are various recipes online for making yogurt from a probiotic 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:
Vegan Coconut Yogurt Recipe2
- 3/4 to 1 cup coconut water
- 16 ounces (453 grams) raw coconut meat
- Probiotic powder (approximately 2 capsules worth)
1. Blend the coconut water and coconut meat until smooth.
3. 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 to 16 hours. The longer it cultures, the more yogurt-like it becomes in taste.
4. When you’re ready to eat it, feel free to sweeten it 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) I Don’t Need Probiotics Because I Eat Yogurt
This assumption can be tricky. Although yogurt is made with bacterial cultures, not all yogurts contain viable probiotics by the time they make it to store shelves. Some yogurts are heat-treated after fermentation, which can kill the live cultures that were used to make them.3 You’ll need to read the label of your yogurt to make sure it contains live, active cultures, and even then it might not contain enough to make a difference.
If your yogurt does contain viable probiotics, the question becomes—How much beneficial gut bacteria are you 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 are not likely to see the same benefits or gain any regular digestive support. You also have to keep an eye out for added sugars in yogurt, which equate to extra calories.
Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, deliver carefully measured daily servings of probiotics in much higher concentrations, and without the extra calories from eating all that yogurt. If regular maintenance is what you want, a high-quality probiotic formula may be a better choice.
What’s your take? Do you take probiotics on a regular basis? What results have you experienced?
Learn more about probiotics from our other Probiotic 101 articles, including The 4 Steps to Choosing a Probiotic for You, Translating the Language of Probiotics and Trust Your Gut Health: Build a Healthier Gut with Probiotics.
1 Your Changing Microbiome. Genetic Science Learning Center. The University of Utah. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/microbiome/changing/ (Accessed 03/15/2018)
2 Quickie Raw Vegan Coconut Yogurt Recipe – 3 Ingredients. Kristen Suzanne’s Food, Travel, Lifestyle. http://kristensraw.com/blog/2012/11/15/quickie-raw-vegan-coconut-yogurt-recipe-3-ingredients/ (Accessed 03/15/2018)
3 Are all yogurts ‘probiotic yogurts’? California Dairy Research Foundation. http://cdrf.org/2016/08/12/yogurts-probiotic-yogurts/ (Accessed 03/15/2018)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
(updated 3/28/2018, original publish date 04/24/2014)