There are hundreds of supplements available today that are marketed as a probiotic. However, many ‘probiotics’ lack the transparency, scientific data, and credentials to qualify as efficacious supplements. Most supplements are categorized under the Human Foods division of the FDA, which means many probiotics are unregulated.
As a result, it’s imperative for consumers to understand how to decipher probiotic labels in order to judge the true credibility of the products they ingest. Keep in mind that just because bacterial strains are listed on a label doesn’t mean the formulation is clinically- tested, living, or built to survive the stomach’s harsh acidic environment.
The Scientific Criteria for a Probiotic Product
Probiotics, by definition, are live microorganisms that confer positive benefits to the host when administered in adequate amounts. According to scientific criteria, a supplement needs to meet the following guidelines to be classified as a probiotic:
Scientific Evidence: A probiotic needs to be supported by sufficient evidence displaying a positive health benefit on the target host. Every health claim made by the company should be backed by appropriate studies, including a comparable study population, study outcomes, and administered dose.
Genome Sequencing: Probiotics need to have premium quality genome sequencing. According to a 2021 study by the Zhejiang Institute of Microbiology, whole-genome analysis is a useful method for testing probiotics’ quality and safety. Quality assurance and control guidelines regarding genome stability should be regulated for all probiotics.
Safety of Use: Depending on the intended use, probiotics should be analyzed for antibiotic resistance, toxin production, hemolytic and metabolic activity, and potential adverse effects. Probiotics should be well-tested, regulated, and studied before being administered for human consumption.
International Culture Collection: Bacterial formulations that are deposited in an international culture collection can be adequately researched and regulated. Probiotics must contain the same strains and properties over time to ensure quality control.
Taxonomic Group: Probiotics should be assigned to a current taxonomic group. The classification of probiotics can be complex depending on single or multi-strain formulations. However, each strain will be identified by both the species and the genus. More information about genus types can be seen in the chart below, as shown on the right.
A Break Down of Probiotic Labels: What Should I Look For?
Probiotics are a rapidly growing industry today. Consumers today see the word on food, beverage, supplement, and skincare labels, just to name a few. Just because a product has live active cultures doesn’t mean it meets the scientific criteria necessary for probiotic classification. As a result, many products are mislabeled.
Many labels have the genus or strain listed, but there is a lack of strain designation. This consists of two to three capital letters designating the lab and a serial number identifying the strains in a laboratory collection. For example, DSM 32245.
Additionally, some probiotics will simply state the strain without the genus or specific CFU content. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are commonly used in probiotics, but there are collectively eighteen genus types these strains can be classified under. This specific information should be displayed on every probiotic label.
Another important label aspect is the CFU number, which will differ for single or multi-strain formulations. Single strains may have one CFU amount listed, but multi-strain probiotics should break down the individual contribution of each strain used. A lack of transparency of CFUs can be misleading and impact the actual quality and efficacy of the product.
Finally, probiotics should list the shelf-life of the product in regards to the ‘use by date.’ If CFU count is only tested at the time of manufacture, individuals will likely receive a percentage less of live bacteria at the time of administration. If you are paying for x amount of CFUs, you should receive the equivalent amount during ingestion.
Here is an example of the Lyvecap STRONG probiotic label for reference.
Probiotics Need to be Well Researched, Tested, and Honestly Labeled
It can be overwhelming to walk through supplement aisles and try to determine the best product, pricing, and efficacy for your needs. Everyone taking a probiotic should be able to read and understand their probiotic label. Marketing tactics can present a list of benefits, but if they aren’t backed by science, there’s no legitimacy in the claim.
Just because a collection of strains are formulated together doesn’t mean they’ve been tested for singular and symbiotic benefits. Consumers deserve to understand the probiotic market, the biology of the microbiome, and the science behind their health.
When you’re creating products built to benefit the consumer, they should be supported by trackable data and reliability. Otherwise, you may be taking products labeled ‘probiotics’ that have no true efficacy and foster zero proven results.
Read more about the science behind our premier STRONG probiotic here.