What Is CFU In Probiotics?

What Is CFU In Probiotics? So you’ve decided to take a probiotic supplement. Good for you! That means you’re committed to attaining overall body health since probiotics are known to aid in food digestion and help maintain one’s gut health. In fact, new scientific researches suggest that probiotic-rich foods and supplements could treat and even prevent some illnesses.

Before anything else, one should always check the label since it helps you make informed decisions about taking any kind of supplements in the instances that certain ingredients could be bad for your health. When it comes to probiotic supplement labels, you’ll likely come across the term “CFU.” What does it mean?

CFU stands for colony-forming units, which are units of measurement used to determine the specific number of bacterial cells that can multiply to form a colony in a lab sample, or in this case, a probiotic supplement. Now, you might wonder what this has to do with your health. It’s popularly believed that having a high number of colony-forming units is an indicator of good quality. Most of the time, probiotics have such a quantity likely come with a much higher price. 

But is having a higher CFU probiotic the sole true mark of quality, though? Some people just base their choice on this aspect alone, but they never really think about other qualities and what they can do. Let’s break them down here and separate the facts from the myths in order to help you make an informed decision about what you’re going to take in your body.

But first, let’s dig a little deeper into the CFUs.

How the CFUs work 

As we’ve said, the colony-forming units refer to the number of live and active microorganisms in one serving of a probiotic dietary supplement, measured in CFUs per gram or per milliliter. The “colony” consists of microorganisms growing together, such as bacteria, yeast, mold, and viruses. 

Each individual healthy bacterial cell should be capable of multiplying continuously so that it can form a colony of bacterial cells. Normally, the CFU count found in the majority of probiotic supplements can range from 1 up to 10 Billion CFUs per serving. Certain brands even boast and advertise having as much as 50 Billion, 100 Billion, and even 150 Billion CFUs, 

Probiotics at work

How do we know if the bacterial colonies in probiotics are already at work? People usually think of better digestion at the mere mention of probiotics. That’s exactly the first sign that signifies that the supplements are working. One might also notice more regular bowel movements, lesser-frequent stomach problems (lesser food cravings, especially sugary foods), and fewer bouts of fatigue after eating. Once the good bacteria settles in, it helps boost the immune system, facilitates better nutrient absorption, and provides better sleep quality.

There’s also strong evidence of probiotics assisting in weight loss. As we know,  the gut microbiome and the body’s metabolism are linked, and many cases have reported a more effective weight loss process while ingesting probiotics. A probiotic supplement containing the right mix of bacterial strains can help rebalance gut bacteria composition, minimize cravings, increase metabolism and make weight loss more achievable. 

But it doesn’t just stop with your gut health. Research has discovered that the gut and the brain are also linked to each other. As a result, probiotics might also alleviate mental health problems and conditions such as anxiety, depression, and headaches. They have also shown promise in improving one’s mood and brain function.

How are they measured?

This measurement system makes it easier to determine the number of viable cells in a sample instead of having to count them individually.

Colony-forming units are usually measured in microbiological laboratories through an agar plate, a type of petri dish doused by agar solution (This is done so that the microorganism can grow properly). In this way, the colonies can be easily counted individually by the naked eye, and one can draw an estimated measurement of the CFU from that count. 

How do you know how many CFUs you actually need?

They say the more, the merrier, especially when it comes to having probiotic supplements with a high CFU count. But do you actually need that many CFUs? Does it make your health better? Most doctors believe otherwise. Having a CFU count does not always ensure a healthier constitution, and neither does having a lower count always offer fewer benefits. In fact, the amount of CFUs you should take, high or low, depends on your body’s needs and the condition it’s in.

Going for higher CFU 

Healthy adults with no intestinal disorders or other serious health conditions with the goal of improving their one’s health should be able to take probiotic supplements with higher CFUs, which could go from 10 – 100 billion. Most of the time, people take a higher quantity of bacteria to see optimal results, but these come with their personal risk.

When to opt for low CFU 

Children, in general, should not take probiotics with a high CFU count. Why? Because they have a natural lack of diversity in their gut microbiota. If anything, the dosage recommended by scientists for children is 5 to 10 billion colony-forming units per day, though these may go even lower for infants and toddlers. 

While it’s generally better for most adults to take one with a higher CFU, people suffering from certain conditions like serious inflammation of the gastrointestinal tracts and those who might be sensitive to supplements should opt for probiotics with lower CFUs.

Considering other factors

When you consider taking probiotics, one shouldn’t simply take into account whether it has a high CFU count or not, but also for its other qualities that go well with your health needs and lifestyle, namely:

The Diversity of Bacterial Strains Present

Thinking of getting that brand you saw online? Hold your horses for a while; you want to make sure that the brand of your choice probiotic includes the right kind of probiotic bacterial strains that suit you. Take note that your gut microbiota has about 400 to 600 probiotic bacterial strains that each carry out a specific function and effect. We know that probiotics work by changing the composition of your gut bacteria, so with that into account, this ac

Here, you might want to consider taking probiotic supplements with more than one strain of bacteria present. That’s what we refer to as multi-strain supplements (sometimes referred to as multispecies/poly-strain/’polybiotics). Taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement can be a good option as an everyday supplement to support your gut health needs. For example, if you tend to get stomach problems while you’re on the go (traveler’s diarrhea), taking a mix of bacterial strains could be effective in doing its work in relieving the said condition.

But before heading off to the counter, you have to determine which bacterial strains work well together or not. In one research done on identical twins’ gut microbiome, a group of scientists discovered an interplay between our body and gut bacteria and that they (gut bacteria) play an important contribution to the body’s metabolic processes. They also tend to work in groups to accomplish their functions best.

Delivery Mechanism Process

If there’s one thing that could beat high CFUs as a primary element when picking a supplement, it’s this one. The delivery mechanism involves the product’s manufacturing process and how it’s is supposed to be ingested. It’s an extremely crucial factor that could make or break its full efficacy.

For a probiotic to truly do its magic, the bacterial species present have to last the entire leg of the journey, from the manufacturing plant to the pharmacy store, to your fridge at home, and finally, ingestion, where it goes through the gastrointestinal tract and into the large intestine.

The whole process can pose many risks, such as possible sudden temperature and moisture changes and even exposure to stomach acid levels. In that acidic gastric environment, the probiotics need to survive in order for them to reach the small intestine and successfully colonize the host for it to work its benefits. 

Unfortunately, most good bacteria in many probiotic supplements already die before one even has the chance to ingest them due to improper storage and handling. The probiotic bacteria in capsules/chewables are freeze-dried to extract the moisture and make them dormant. Exposure to humidity eventually re-activates the bacteria. This is why it’s important always to keep them refrigerated or stored in sufficiently cool places at all times.

If the bacteria do survive and make it through ingestion, the probiotics present in capsules or chewables usually don’t even last through the stomach’s acidic environment. Whatever CFU count it has, it all goes to waste when the bacteria die before it gets to do their purpose.

Powdered probiotics, a better option?

Given the meticulous ingestion process that probiotics that come in capsule/chewable form must undergo, some manufacturers have devised a powdered form of probiotics that can withstand the delivery mechanism longer. Others have also made alternatives in the form of foods, beverages, and liquids. However, they have a much lower chance of surviving the stomach’s acidic environment than probiotics in capsules, chewables, beads, or even yogurts. So that might not be the best option for you. 

Possible side effects

While probiotics are generally safe, side effects coming and going while taking probiotic supplements are fairly common, especially if you’re new to them. The most common side effects are a temporary increase in gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and occasional thirst. A probiotic with a high CFU count could cause more trouble for a few people. For example, a few consumers experienced chronic diarrhea that lasted over a week, and those with intestinal conditions found the side effects more unbearable than others.

Taking an affirmative boost

Prebiotics are types of fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system and help feed and strengthen probiotic bacteria. Picking the right kind of prebiotic for you that will go hand-in-hand with your probiotic supplement can create a huge difference and deliver ideal, more visible results. As such, it’s highly recommendable to take them daily. We compiled a list of the best prebiotic and probiotic combinations here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many probiotics should I take per day?

Well, since there are many different probiotic organisms and CFU counts, it depends on the recommended dosage of the brand you bought. However, most brands recommend taking only one dose of probiotics a day.

Some strains are stable for up to 24 months when sealed in the original package at room temperature.

How should I store my probiotic supplement at home?

Scientists and manufacturers recommend storing probiotic supplements in the refrigerator, which can help keep the bacteria alive longer.

Warm temperatures can reactivate the bacteria and cause them to die. As mentioned earlier, probiotics must survive production to ingestion, reaching the small intestine to provide their full health benefits.

Can I take them simultaneously with my antibiotics?

Before starting on probiotics, it’s best to wait a week or two after taking antibiotics to allow the gut to restore its microflora and minimize the risk of antibiotic-related side effects.

Is it okay for pregnant women to take probiotics?

Yes. While mothers-to-be tend to have digestive problems, taking probiotic supplements can help prevent small digestive disorders and promote overall wellness. In fact, it can even provide some immunity benefits for both mother and the [unborn] baby.

See our list of the best probiotic supplement for women.

Key Takeaways

Taking probiotics is a great step forward towards the road to achieving not just optimal gut health but also for the body overall. The many benefits are promising and will surely help you live the life you want. But before making the next move, it pays to determine your needs and how these probiotics fix and improve each of them, rather than just basing your decision on the product with the most number of CFUs, which, as discussed, should NOT be the sole deciding factor of your choice.

This involves researching the selection and combination of compatible probiotic strains a supplement contains and how the product’s delivery mechanism process works. That way, it can work better at addressing your health needs. Most of all, it’s important to follow the advice of your trusted physician or any medical authority prior to or during the ingestion of such supplements to figure out whether they are beneficial to your own health or not. 

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