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Choosing the Best Probiotic: How Many CFUs is Enough?

Category: Dietary Supplements

Probiotics, by definition, are live microorganisms, that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. However, a pressing question arising from this definition is: “what is an adequate amount?” Or even better, “what is the best amount?”

To answer that question, we first must clarify how probiotics are quantified. The accepted standard unit for probiotic amount is a “colony-forming unit” (CFU). An individual CFU essentially represents a single live probiotic cell that has retained its ability to grow. Therefore, if a probiotic product claims to have 1X109 CFUs of a given strain, then it is claiming to contain at least 1 billion live cells of that probiotic. In the USA, products that list a probiotic CFU amount are required to maintain at least that CFU until the expiry of the product.

A visit to the probiotic aisle of your local dietary supplement retailer will meet you with a range of probiotic products claiming anywhere from 1 million to 50 billion CFU (or more!). With such a wide range of choices, a common misconception regarding CFU numbers is that when it comes to a probiotic, more is better.

However, this is not necessarily the case. It is important to understand that every probiotic strain is different. Survival of a probiotic through the stomach and small intestine is strain dependent. Some strains experience more than 99% die-off during gastric passage, essentially reducing CFUs down to 1% or less of what is on the label by the time they reach their target in the gut. Other strains, like the spore-forming Bacillus subtilis DE111, have almost no die-off through gastric passage.

Similarly, probiotic efficacy and activity also vary by strain. By way of analogy, think of fruits.
Everyone knows that fruits contain vitamins, but the vitamin content of any given fruit is dependent on the kind of fruit and not just the amount. If an individual is trying to get more potassium in their diet, then one cup of avocado will be more effective than seven cups of apples. In fruits and probiotic strains, type or strain sometimes matters more than just amount.

With that all being said, the only real way to determine the amount of any probiotic strain needed or adequate to confer a health benefit is through clinical trials. Without results from a clinical trial at a given dose, we can’t claim with any degree of certainty that a probiotic strain will confer any particular benefit at that dose. Therefore, clinically proven doses are much better than just higher doses.

At Deerland, our product development specialists work closely with dietary supplement brand marketers to formulate probiotic supplement products that contain an efficacious dose to confer the particular health benefits they are seeking, backed by clinical science. To learn more, contact us today.