What are the best probiotic supplements that actually make a difference in your health? In this post we're debunking four common myths about probiotics and what to look for to ensure you're getting maximum benefits.
This post is sponsored by Seed. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
Did you know that probiotics are a $50 billion dollar industry and estimated to reach $77 billion globally by 2025? (source)
While I love a good probiotic and think they're an important ingredient in our wellness routine, not all probiotics are created equal. Today we're debunking four myths about probiotic supplements–no more wasting money on supplements that don't actually make a difference in your health!
If you're new to this topic, we've talked a ton about probiotics over the years. I recommend starting with our posts on What are Probiotics?, The Gut Microbiome Guide, and Good Bacteria Guide: Why Too Clean Isn't Healthy.
To make sure we're all on the same page, let's first define what a probiotic is, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” (source)
To qualify as a probiotic, a product must meet this strict, scientific definition. Let's break this down:
- live microorganism = it must survive all the way to the colon, where your body can actually make use of the bacteria
- adequate amounts = a clinically-verified dose
- health benefit on the host = strain-specific, clinically-studied benefits shown to have an effect in the human body, not just mice!
I've taken countless different probiotics over the years, but gotta say that I've been super impressed recently with Seed's Daily Synbiotic that's actually backed by science (a synbiotic is a combination of probiotics and prebiotics–prebiotics are a special form of dietary fiber that act as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in your gut).
Their probiotic combines 24 DNA verified, human-based, naturally-occurring probiotic bacterial strains with a prebiotic and a strong capsule. (Psst… go here to use the code ROOTANDREVEL to get 15% off the first month of Seed's Daily Synbiotic probiotic + prebiotic subscription!)
I'll talk more about why I trust this brand in a moment, but regardless of what brand you opt for, there are some common myths about probiotic supplements I want to get straight so you know what to look for when deciding which brand is best for you.
Here we go!
4 Myths About Probiotic Supplements
Myth #1: Probiotics must be refrigerated
I was surprised to recently learn that, contrary to other perishable food products, probiotic refrigeration doesn’t mean ‘freshness’ or superiority.
While some probiotics do need to be refrigerated to preserve efficacy (especially in hotter summer months, or during transport), you shouldn’t discount a probiotic that doesn’t require refrigeration.
It’s true that bacteria are fragile–they’re sensitive to light, temperature, and moisture–but technological innovations like lyophilization (freeze-drying) can render probiotics ‘dormant’, meaning they remain in an inert, shelf-stable state until they reach the digestive tract and are reactivated.
The more important thing to look for is demonstrated survivability through improved delivery technologies. Since the bacteria needs to reach the colon to be effective, what's the point of even taking a probiotic supplement if the bacteria is so fragile it doesn't survive the journey from throat to colon?
Seed's Daily Synbiotic uses an algae microsphere delivery system and delayed-release capsule technology, meaning the bacteria can survive regardless of the storage conditions. The capsule contains a Chlorophyllin exterior which shields it from light, while the liquid prebiotic suspension acts as an additional barrier to oxygen, moisture, and heat. You can even see their test results from SHIME®, the most difficult deliverability test simulating the human gut, which shows their survivability. (For all references and studies on Seed's strains, go here.)
Myth #2: Probiotics are all the same.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes probiotics as supplements, which are generally much more loosely regulated compared to food or drugs. Thus the term ‘probiotic’ has been taken for marketing purposes, and much of the science has been lost in translation.
The best probiotics:
- include more than one bacterial strain (Note: strains are different than species. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a species, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus SD-LR6-IT is a strain–within each species, there are thousands of strains, and they can each have different functions–or no function at all–in your body.)
- have evidence of human health benefit and tons of clinical research
- survive digestion and arrive in your colon (meaning the delivery system ensures protection past stomach and bile acids)
- have good encapsulations without phthalates or synthetic or chemical coating
- ideally include a prebiotic
- have additional reputable certifications like glyphosate residue-free
While many probiotic brands out there don't have extensive research, Seed's probiotic strains have collectively been studied in 23 human clinical studies including double-blind, placebo-controlled trials conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Japan.
Primary and secondary outcomes of these studies demonstrate statistically significant improvements in multiple markers of gastrointestinal health (like relieving intestinal discomfort, evacuation disorders, hard stools, bloating, and pain), cardiovascular health, and dermatological health. These studies are published in acclaimed peer-reviewed journals like Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Scientific Reports (Nature), and JAMA Dermatology, and are all indexed to PubMed, the central database for life science journal literature at the National Institute of Health.
Plus, Seed not only adheres to FDA regulations but also looks to higher global standards like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Japan’s Foods for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU) in the manufacture and translation of probiotics, which goes above and beyond most other brands of probiotics.
Myth #3: Probiotics only help digestion.
Most people exclusively associate probiotics with digestive health, but this is a common misconception.
We talk about this a ton in this post about The Gut Microbiome: A Guide to Digestive, Skin, Immune System, & Mental Health, how our gastrointestinal system is interconnected with and influences everything from metabolic and immune function to cardiovascular, dermatological, and mental health.
While improvements in gut health are often the most immediate, localized, and evident (with digestion often improved in as little as 24-48 hours), probiotics can actually have powerful effects across the entire body, far beyond your digestive tract.
There's even preliminary research in mice that probiotics can help with PCOS symptoms to improve testosterone levels, normalized cycles, and ovulation (source), and a clinical trial in humans showing improved markers for anxiety, stress, and reduced testosterone and other inflammation biomarkers in women with PCOS. (source)
In addition to Seed’s gut health benefits, the Daily Synbiotic includes a dermatological health blend of four strains that were clinically-studied to promote skin health and a healthy SCORAD score (a scale for measuring atopic dermatitis).
Myth #4: Probiotics with higher CFUs are always better.
10 billion has got to be better than 10 million, right? Not necessarily–especially if it contains billions and billions of bacteria never tested in humans.
You’ve probably seen the term CFU–Colony-Forming Units–on a probiotic label. This basically tells you how many bacteria in the sample are capable of dividing and forming colonies. The best dose, per strain, is one that has been shown to deliver clinically-validated, positive outcomes in humans, and bigger isn't always better.
Plus, CFU has now become a marketing tool. Many probiotics today proclaim outrageously enormous CFU counts, but they are unable to survive the trip from manufacturer to store shelf, much less the journey from your mouth, through your acidic digestive process, to your gut. Oftentimes, to get around this, the number on the box will refer to ‘time of manufacture’, when really it should tell you what amount will still remain viable near the expiration date.
A new form of measurement–AFU (Active Fluorescent Units)–has recently emerged that calculates a more precise measurement of all viable cells, including ones that are effective but not necessarily culturable (therefore meaning they're not counted in a traditional CFU measurement).
There you have it–four myths about probiotic supplements, busted!
If you're interested in trying Seed's Daily Synbiotic for yourself, use the code ROOTANDREVEL to get 15% off your first month's subscription!
For what it's worth, here are some other fun facts about Seed that makes them stand out from the crowd, IMO:
- The female formulation of Seed's Daily Probiotic is the first to include probiotic strains that increase the production of folate (GREAT for pregnancy!).
- It's vegan, gluten-free, preservative-free, allergen-free.
- No refrigeration required–easy for traveling! And it comes with a free glass travel vial that fits a week’s worth, so I never have to miss a dose.
- They created a sustainable refill system that starts with a beautiful, reusable green glass jar and continues with monthly refills–no single-use plastic in sight. The packaging is biodegradable and it decomposes in soil within 30 days.