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Understanding Probiotic Potency: CFU, Shelf Life and Label Claims

Category: Educational Articles

By now, the benefits of probiotics have become well-known among health-conscious consumers. The good bacteria, referred to as probiotics, help to balance out the undesirable bacteria within the digestive tract, promoting overall gut health. While the advantages of probiotics are clear, there remains some confusion about how probiotics are measured for efficacy, and how they should be properly handled so that individuals get the most from their supplements.

Probiotics are defined as “living microorganisms which when administered in sufficient quantities will bring a health benefit to the host”. Because these are living organisms, special care must be taken so that they remain viable until consumption. These beneficial bacteria face a wide range of challenges that may decrease their numbers before consumption, thus reducing the beneficial effects of supplement product. During the supply-to-shelf chain alone—light, heat, oxygen, and moisture all pose threats to vitality, so it is inevitable that a portion of the bacteria may expire somewhere before consumption. Even after consumption, many probiotics can be destroyed by stomach acid before reaching their target sites in the intestines, further reducing their effects. When formulating a product, careful selection of organisms with the most desirable characteristics is required to deliver the optimal probiotic supplement.

The potency of probiotics is measured in colony forming units (CFU). CFUs are determined by allowing the organism to grow on appropriate media under controlled conditions, and then counting the number of colonies present. Typical counts for a supplement product may be in the range of 5-10 billion CFUs per serving. Because not all the bacteria will remain viable when they arrive at their intended destination in the gut, manufactures tend to begin with higher doses of probiotic bacteria than is required to provide benefits. Plus, if an expiration date is specified on the label, the CFU count must reflect the number remaining at the end of that expiration date.

Understanding labeling and proper storage requirements of probiotics will help ensure a quality supplement product. Refrigeration requirements vary amongst probiotic organisms, but generally cooler temperatures and dryer conditions will yield a longer shelf life. Spore-forming strains, such as Bacillus genus, have a more stable shelf life, and are better suited to withstand environmental factors, allowing for greater potency when consumed.

Probiotics are critical to supporting gut health and overall wellbeing, but these living organisms may face a host of challenges to their viability that begin the minute they are formed, and do not end until digestion. Knowing how to maximize stability through careful formulation and proper storage will help manufacturers ensure that their consumers achieve the greatest benefits from their probiotic supplement. Deerland Enzymes and Probiotics, a leading specialty formulator and contract manufacturer of enzyme and probiotic-based dietary supplements, provides high-quality formulas, carefully manufactured and handled for maximum stability and shelf life. For more information about us and our range of wellness products, visit us online at DeerlandEnymes.com.

About The Expert
John Davidson
Director of Education and Innovation, Deerland Enzymes & Probiotics

John Davidson has been formulating enzyme based dietary supplements for more than 30 years, with a particular focus in human digestion. Davidson’s wide range of experience encompasses nearly all aspects of supplement manufacturing; including QC/QA, blending, encapsulation, tableting, research & development, product development and technical services. In his current role as the Director of Education and Innovation for Deerland Enzymes, Davidson is responsible for both new product innovation, collaborating with R&D and Sales to bring new products to market.

John Davidson

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