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What are Probiotics and Answers of Other FAQs!


The question “What are Probiotics?” is an ever growing one since more and more manufacturers are incorporating probiotics into their product lines.  To help you answer this question as well as other frequently asked questions (FAQs) I’ve located a very helpful resource tool for you. 

The website is a comprehensive, up-to-date resource on probiotic research and development.  It provides consumer health benefits of probiotics and is an excellent resource for global probiotic activities.  I found their site easy to navigate with information designed to help educate consumers, healthcare professionals and industry professionals in the complex world of probiotics. 

Yes, the world of probiotics is complex.  It is estimated that 100 trillion microorganisms representing over 500 different species inhabit the healthy bowel of most individuals.  But even with this complexity there are some very specific guidelines on how probiotics can benefit you, as well as some general questions most people have on this topic.  So, let’s look at 12 FAQs:

Q – What are Probiotics?

The current and most complete answer to this question is “Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amount confer a health benefit on the host (FAO 2001).”  This answer contains three very important pieces of information:

  1. They must be live microorganisms.
  2. They must be in large enough quantities.
  3. They must provide a health benefit.

When in proper balance these microorganisms or bacteria don’t make us sick; rather they play an incredible role in keeping us healthy.

Q – What is a recommended dose?

This depends upon who you read since the dose is based upon the study that showed an effect.  Typically each study is strain specific.  Some strains are effective at 50 million live cells per day where as others recommend over 1 trillion.  One terminology that you may see on a product is CFU or Colony Forming Units. 

As a general guideline the minimum dose you should take is 1 billion CFU since this is usually the least amount of organisms needed to get a measurable effect.  A therapeutic dose is around 10 billion CFU.

Q – Is daily consumption necessary?

Usually since most clinical studies showing a health benefit use daily consumption as part of their protocol and manufacturers follow this recommendation.  Occasionally you might see a recommendation for multiple times per day. 

As in all health care products there is a cost-to-benefit ratio (the daily cost of a product versus the health benefit gained).  This is my personal opinion but I would suggest that for the first 60 to 90 days you would follow the manufacturer’s guidelines of daily consumption.  After this period you might try a M-W-F-Sunday schedule to see if this maintains the same benefit.  This schedule provides four days on and three days off to maintain proper colonization of the beneficial bacteria.  Plus, it is easier to remember than an every other day schedule.

Certainly if you get sick, have additional stress in your life, overindulge, and experience any number of factors that could upset your intestinal tract then go back to daily consumption to maintain or reestablish proper colonization.

Q – Are refrigerated products best?

Those manufacturers who refrigerate their products will tell you “Yes!”  In general this is true since microbes survive better at lower temperatures.  However, there are new technologies that have been developed to keep probiotics alive at room temperature.  It is best to choose products from reputable companies who will guarantee the viability of their probiotics “through the end of shelf life” not “at time of manufacture.”

Q – Do all probiotics function in the same way?

No.  Most probiotics are strain specific.  Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG typically has a different effect than Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1.  Even though both are of the same genus (Lactobacillus), the same species (rhamnosus) they are different strains (GG versus GR-1) and it is the strain that provides the unique benefit.  Thus it is important to use only probiotics that are supported by strain specific research.

Q – Are probiotics alive when they are dried?

If they are dried and stabilized properly they will exist in a dormant state.  When they reach the moist environment inside your body they will start to grow and colonize again.  Again, it’s important to choose products from reputable companies would have the expertise to practice this technique.

Q – Which probiotic is the best one?

This is the hardest question to answer because there are so many variables involved.  Typically each person has a unique set of colonizing microbes in their intestinal tract which sets up the potential to respond to probiotics differently.  What works for one person may not necessary work for you.  My suggestion is to drill down.  Start with a reputable company or go to a reputable health food store.  Contact the company or the owner/manager of the health food store and inform them of your particular needs.  Allow them to ask you questions so that they can help you choose the initial probiotic product that will best match up to your needs.  But understand that sometimes this can be a process of trying different products until you find the one that works best for your system.

Q – Can dead bacteria be probiotics?

No.  By definition a probiotic must be alive when administered. 

Q – To be good does a probiotic need to be isolated from humans?

This is a debatable issue since bacteria that are native to one person or culture can be foreign to another person or culture.  Additionally there are several probiotic strains that were not isolated from humans but have health benefits in humans.  So that must important information is not the source of the probiotic but if the clinical studies have shown it to be effective when administered to humans.

Q – How do you pick a reputable company and what product information should they supply?

As Ronald Reagan said “Trust but Verify!” so the company’s website or their product label must contain the following details:

Q – Are probiotics better in pill form or from food?

Either form can be effective.  Remember the most important consideration is the strain or combination of strains and that you are getting high enough CFUs to provide a benefit.  While supplements in pill form offer convenience, food sources of probiotics can offer good nutrition along with these beneficial bacteria. 

Q – Does added sugar in probiotic yogurts and other food products negate any health benefits?

There is no current evidence that would suggest that added sugars compromise the health benefits of probiotics.  However, added sugars are associated with most degenerative diseases.  Just recently the American Heart Association has taken a position that to reduce heart disease people need to reduce their consumption of added sugars.  (Please read my blog post on this topic of added sugar.)

The world of probiotics is a complex and growing science designed to help us understand the importance of providing beneficial bacteria to help our bodies function optimally.  I hope these 12 FAQs have helped you answer the question “What are Probiotics?”  Hopefully you will begin to experiment with them to improve your health.

Until next time, may we both age youthfully!

Synergistically yours,

P.S.   The following articles will provide you with additional information on probiotics:

The Health Benefits of Probiotics on Aging!

Best Probiotics for Optimal Oral Health! (coming soon)

Probiotic Links! (coming soon)


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