Sunday, December 14, 2008

Viability of Acidophilus and Probiotics

Like many of you, I lay awake at night wondering if my probiotic supplements are effectively populating my intestines with viable strains of good bacteria.

I read an article online a few years ago that said an easy way to test viability is to open an acidophilus capsule and mix it in 8 oz. of milk and let it sit out on your counter overnight. If the milk is curdled in the morning, the strain is viable and you know you have an effective product.

I did this test in 2004 with Metagenics Ultra Flora Plus Dairy Free capsules , and the milk was indeed a bit chunky and curdled the next day. It was viable!

I was getting my monthly supply of Metagenics Ultra Flora Plus at Invite Health. Suddenly, Metagenics has decided to no longer sell its product through retail outlets, which means you can only get them if you see one of their "authorized" doctors. This is bullshit. Probiotics are not controlled substances. I shouldn't have to spend money to go to a doctor just so I can buy this brand even if they are considered the "best" in probiotics (few brands offer 15 billion live organisms in one tiny capsule--most other brands are perhaps 1 million per capsule).

Now that my probiotic supply had been cut off, I needed other options.

So, I have started the expensive undertaking of testing various brands you might find at a place like Whole Foods to see if any of them are good.

The big problem with probiotics is that they can be viable at the time of manufacture, but many of them require refrigeration, and if they don't stay refrigerated while in transit to the retail outlet, most of the probiotics will die, even if they are refrigerated once they get to their destination. This means that you're paying $30/bottle for nothing.

There are some brands that claim to be shelf-stable and don't need refrigeration, but I've always been a bit skeptical of that. I included those in my little sample as well.

Here are my results:

Metagenics Ultra Flora Plus DF Capsules
I re-tested my last bottle of my brand of choice and surprise, surprise! This time around, the milk was NOT CURDLED AT ALL! Nothing! There was no change in smell, color or texture. I had a bum batch! This made me wonder how many times I've taken this product over the past four years and it was having no effect. On the upside, it made me feel more open to trying other brands.

Nutrition Now PB 8
This is a "shelf stable" brand that does not need refrigerations and claims to have 14 billion bacteria per a 2 capsule serving. If there was anything active in this puppy, it sure wasn't barking. The milk was as normal as always. I don't think I'll bother with this brand again.

Sedona Labs iFLora Multi-Probiotic Formula
Another shelf-stable option. Finally, a little action! Even though the milk didn't look terribly curdled, it had a distinctly different smell--much more like buttermilk, which suggested to me that something was going on. I wasn't overly impressed, but at least it wasn't a total bust.

Renew Life Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion
Ding! Ding! Ding! WE HAVE A WINNER!

See that picture at the top of this post? THAT is Ultimate Flora Critical Care in action--it caused a thick, disgusting, almost colloidal suspension of gelatinous goo and it smelled like curdled milk. This shit works! And I can also attest that it's doing something because my stomach has been feeling mildly rumbly after taking it, which means that something good is going on. Those kinds of symptoms will stop in a few days as a person's body acclimates to the new flora.

NOTE: This brand requires refrigeration. I bought it from Whole Foods in Columbus Circle--clearly, they're transporting their refrigerated goods properly.

All of this cost me a mere $120 to test. UGH. But, I'd rather know that what I'm taking is going to work, and I hope this can help other people, too.

Your intestines are the first line of defense of your immune support. Take care of them. Here's to a happy intestinal life. Sweet dreams!


Roy Bingham said...

You should also test Renew Life's Critical Care product with 200 billion CFU's. I know "this shit works" - I overcame C-Diff (a nasty bacteria that I contrcted in hospital!) by taking Renew Life probiotics - the 50 billion and the 200 billion - this when antibiotics had completely failed me!

Major Generalist said...

Hello Roy,
Thanks so much for your post. I totally appreciate hearing success stories and product recommendations. I will see if I can get a hold of the 200 billion CFUs batch and try it out.

Where do you typically buy it? A major chain?

And, a serious congratulations is in order for getting over C-Diff. That's a huge accomplishment.

I went through a cleanse and repopulation of flora that took a year to finally clear out a yeast problem that afflicted me for over 15 years. Getting rebalanced is a tough journey. I'm happy for you that you're back in good health.

And thanks again for the further recommendation!

Roy Bingham said...

thanks - the 200 bn is new in the last few months so it should be in the bigger stores and you can buy it from

Fujisan said...

I bought the Renew Life 50 billion based on your recommendation, thanks! I did notice that it doesn't say anything about requiring refrigeration despite being sold in the refrigerated section. The box says "Store in a cool, dry place. Best if refrigerated after opening."

Major Generalist said...

Hey Fujisan,
Thanks for pointing out that my post is incorrect--the Renew Life does not require refrigeration until after being opened, according to the box. Interesting. I need to look for more research on shelf-stability of bacteria.

Very few people seem to have looked into the topic of acidophilus viability. It's so, so hard to know what's the truth.

I hope it works for you!

Heather Fink said...

Nice scientifical work! Do the little yummy yogurts work too?

Unknown said...

hey major generalist,

i enjoy your blog. when are you going to post again?

romel said...

Hey Karen, How are you? That was a fantastic blog! I've been meaning to try probiotics but was never sure where to go and your piece was great!


Anonymous said...

he, did you know that culturability (them being able to reproduce or curdle your milk) is no prerequisite for probiotics to convey their health benefits? Think about it: 90% of your gut microbiota, the ones keeping you healthy when your not taking probiotics, wouldn't be able to curdle that milk in the picture, let alone grow/reproduce....

Anonymous said...

Poor shelf-stable results....that's distressing. What do you do, if you travel 4-5 days per week, and have limited access to refrigeration in-transit or at destination? It would seem that poor shelf-stable results are better then no results due to not taking anything.

Roy Bingham said...

When I was recovering from C-Diff and taking a lot of probiotics they were usually not refrigerated, even after opening the bottle, but they still seem to work. I have also heard that placing the bottles in a refrigerator in stores is not usually necessary and is more of a marketing startegy. However it would be good to see a study on viability over time with or without refrigeration - anyone seen one?

Anonymous said...

Hi, probiotics viability have proper way to count. Using MRS agar in lab or any selective agar. This way of using milk may not be the best. Any science degree student may perform the test for u.

Btw dead probiotics still can confer its functions as the "dead body" of the cells still benefial but its kinda like u get half of wat u pay for.

Sissy K said...

I refer to this again and again. Just sending it to a friend today. Thanks for the helpful info! :)

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