You may have heard about the benefits of probiotics and want to try it for yourself. So, you are determined to find a high-quality probiotic that is effective. The problem is that you may have no clue what CFUs are and why there are billions of them per capsule. CFUs are the key to understanding probiotic potency and how to maintain that potency. Continue reading to learn what CFUs are, how they are measured, and how this impacts the potency of probiotic supplements.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that provide a health benefit to the host when consumed. The living microorganisms used in probiotic supplements are different strains of bacteria that are similar to the good bacteria naturally found inside our gut. Strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most commonly used bacteria in probiotics. Each strain is unique and requires a certain count and environment to be effective.To understand why CFUs are important, you must understand the gastrointestinal tract and how probiotics work. The gastrointestinal tract is made up of trillions of microorganisms, good and bad, that colonize the intestine. Probiotics do not permanently colonize the intestine, so they must be regularly ingested to provide a benefit.
The effectiveness of probiotic supplements is measured by the bacteria’s ability to colonize the intestinal tract. This is measured in CFUs, colony forming units. A colony forming unit is a microbiology measurement used to estimate the number of viable bacterial or fungal cells. In order to be viable, these cells must be able to multiply through binary fission. Probiotic supplements indicate a viable count, typically in millions or billions, per dose on the label.
What Affects PotencyThe viable count per dose represents the count at time of manufacturing. This count can be affected by multiple factors, including moisture, heat, oxygen and shelf-life. The most common factors affecting count are exposure of the supplement to excess heat and moisture. Excess exposure to these elements decreases the number of viable bacteria in the supplement, which may impact its potency at time of use. Viability also decreases with time, so it is important to be mindful of the “best by” date on your supplements.
To reduce exposure to heat, many supplements will recommend refrigerating your probiotics in order to maintain viability. You may also see probiotic bottles that are made of a dark brown glass to reduce exposure to light. Also, keeping your supplement bottle closed properly between uses is an effective way to reduce exposure to moisture and oxygen. Keeping these factors in mind and taking proactive steps to minimize detrimental exposures will ensure that you are able to unlock the full benefit of your probiotic supplement.