Minding Your P's and Q's: Guidelines for Evaluating Probiotic Supplements
Scientists have studied probiotics for well over a century…it was not until recent that they’ve begun to understand their effect on our health, immune system, and our body’s ability to fight off disease. This has also led to an absolute plethora of products on the market leaving the average consumer…well, confused as to which products are right for them.
In order to make an informed decision regarding which supplements and products may be right for their specific situation, consumers are being urged by ISAPP (The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics) to “mind their P’s and Q’s”.
So what are these P’s and Q’s? Here’s a hint…price is not one of them. The P’s and Q’s we are referring to are the five criteria to consider when deciding which probiotic supplement is right for you…they include: Probiotic Strain, Proof, Quality, Quantity, and Packaging. Take a closer look at each…
A probiotic is typically referred to by using it’s genus, then species, and finally it’s strain designation. For example, the strain used in Align Digestive Care is called Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. A strain in many ways is like a person…although this person belongs to a family (genus and species), they are likely to have many attributes which are different from their siblings (species). Therefore, like a person, not all strains are the same.
As consumers, we are bombarded with commercial messages (mainly “claims” and “clinical proofs”). To make the best decision, it’s extremely critical to realize the difference between the two and exactly what each implies.
Claims which draw a connection between a product and health are allowed under US law and are often times used on the labels of many foods and supplements. Regardless of how generalized these claims are, it is asked that the manufacturer substantiate their claims.
Clinical Proofs require much stricter guidelines. They involve strictly controlled studies which are performed by reliable researchers. With regard to choosing the right probiotic supplement, you will want the research to have been conducted in a very similar environment with similar variables to your own. Often times it is helpful to consult a pharmacist when deciphering these studies’ verbiage. Regardless, we would not recommend purchasing a probiotic supplement which has not been clinically proven (even though it contains the word “probiotic” on it’s label).
The accepted standard for measuring quantities of probiotic bacteria are “CFU”s or colony forming units. A CFU is an actual measurement of the number of living microbes present in a single serving of the supplement. This is useful when comparing the clinical studies above to your intended usage to determine whether or not a specific probiotic supplement is right for you. There is no recommendation for the proper number of CFU’s present because the number required may be different from probiotic to probiotic.
The final criteria when choosing a probiotic supplement has to do with it’s packaging. Because of the fact that different strains must be transported and stored much differently from one another, protection from the elements is a must…remember, these are live, active bacteria. Higher quality probiotics generally provide higher quality packaging.