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Popularity of Probiotics Growing but Viable Bacteria are Lacking in Some Supplements




A new consumer test report finds that many probiotic products do not contain the stated number of viable "friendly bacteria".

The report from is based on lab testing of a range of popular probiotic products, commonly referred to as "friendly bacteria". The report shows that 44% of the products tested contained fewer viable organisms than manufacturer claims or levels generally known to be effective.

Probiotic bacteria have become a prime medical research target over the past decade and consumer awareness of their benefits has followed closely behind. The so called "friendly bacteria" have been successfully used in a range of clinical applications that include reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), treating H. pylori infection (the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers), and treating diarrhea associated with antibiotic use and Clostridium difficile infection. Probiotic supplements have also been shown to reduce allergic reactions, and most recently, to have painkilling actions in the gut.

The investigation tested probiotics for both human, and animal use. We'll focus on the human targetted products here. Of the 13 tested, only 8 passed the tests.

ConsumerLab chose thirteen probiotic products for human consumption sold in the U.S. and/or Canada. The products included offerings from some of the biggest brand names in nutritional supplements, and probiotics in particular, including Enzymatic Therapy, Jarrow Formula's, Allergy Research Group/ Nutricology (Culturelle), Wakunaga (Kyo-Dophilus), Nature's way, Flora Source, and Garden of Life (Primal Defense).

The test results showed that four of these products provided less than one billion viable organisms in a daily serving. This is well below the 5-10 billion CFU's (colony forming units) used in the majority of clinical studies and generally recommended by physicians. Some studies have even used products that use hundreds of billions of viable organisms. Shockingly, one of these four products, a major pharmacy brand, provided only a few hundred million viable organisms, well below the levels generally thought to provide any meaningful benefits. A fifth product met the widely accepted minimum effective level of 1 billion CFU's, but this was well below what the manufacturer claimed was in the product on labels and promotional materials. Only eight products were found to meet the one billion minimum and contain the amounts claimed on their labels. An additional six products tested through ConsumerLab's Voluntary Certification Program also met these criteria. Some products provided several billion organisms per day, with one containing 35 billion.

This report highlights the variability in the quality of probiotic products and the need for consumers (and medical professionals) to choose a product very carefully.

Gut health issues are a major concern for environmental illness sufferers so this is an important issue. Gut infections with bacteria, yeasts, and parasites have been demonstarted to be contributing factors to these illnesses, with a solid evidence base for the role of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and fibromyalgia, for example. Probiotic products have been demonstrated to be effective in treating symptoms associated with these conditions in clinical studies.

When selecting a product to take then, it is important to make sure you are actually getting enough of the right kind of bacteria. This is one area where it is best to pay for the premium, professional quality, products that physicians tend to recommend. You are far more likely to get the number of viable organisms that is claimed on the label, and these amounts are more likely to be closer to what has been found effective in clinical trials. Of course, if you have the time it is also wise to research products used in clinical trials on for yourself on the internet or elsewhere. If a product has been found effective in a clinical trial, or even better, multiple trials, then you can be sure you will be getting what you pay for. It is generally advisible to avoid the bargain basement products sold in pharmacy chains and certain health food chains.

There are also a number of measures you can take ensure you don't damage the product after you have puchased it. Always read the label and follow storage instructions for example.

Tod Cooperman, M.D., President of echoes these thoughts, saying "Be very careful choosing a probiotic supplement to ensure that it will deliver a sufficient dose of viable organisms. These organisms can be very sensitive. They may die and become worthless if products are not properly made or stored.” Dr. Cooperman advises keeping products sealed after use to avoid moisture, and out of heat and light, preferably in a refrigerator.

For more information about probiotics and tips for purchasing and storing them, see our probiotic page subscribers can now read The Product Review of Probiotic Supplements at


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