child counting number of strainsIf you’ve shopped for a probiotic supplement before, you’ve surely noticed one statistic that all probiotics emphasize on the bottle, the CFU count. CFUs, or colony forming units, represent the number of live probiotic bacteria that are supposed to be in each serving.

Most consumers (and surprisingly, even many doctors) aren’t familiar with the inner workings of probiotics and the criteria necessary for a good supplement, so probiotic companies have pushed CFU count as the singular point of comparison for the uninformed. In a way, this makes sense because it gives buyers an easy number that they can use to compare competing products.

Aren’t probiotics with more bacteria going to be better?

Not necessarily. Unfortunately, this number doesn’t mean much on its own. The CFU count may tell you what kind of numbers a probiotic supplement starts with, but the only number that matters is how many bacteria make it to your gut alive. CFU counts don’t tell you anything about how a probiotic has been prepared or what kinds of precautions have been taken to ensure a good survival rate.

After all, 5 billion CFUs per serving sounds much less impressive if over 99% of those bacteria die before they reach the small intestine. If a probiotic is boasting multiple billion CFUs per dose, that could be a red flag that they know their survival rate is poor. They could be trying to overload the initial CFU count to compensate. And guess who pays for all of those extra probiotics that are thrown in each dose… that’s right, you!

Adding insult to injury, there is no research to prove that a CFU count of four billion provides any more benefit than a billion. In fact, research suggests that effective probiotic dosage seems to be in the range of 10 million to one billion CFUs per day in humans, though research in this area is ongoing.

So what should I be looking for instead of CFU count?

Ultimately, the only number that should matter to you is how many bacteria make it through alive to your small intestine. You should be aiming for the minimum dosage for the maximum effect. There’s no easy way for you to figure that out from looking at the bottle. Your best course of action is to find research on the product. If there isn’t any on the company website, ask for it.

Remember: probiotics are not regulated by the FDA. So, it’s extremely easy for companies to make up information about their survival rates and print it as fact. Any good probiotic company is going to test their product to prove its effectiveness. If they don’t have any research, what reason do you have to trust their claims?

At Humarian, we have done the research on our Probonix probiotic and are happy to share our outstanding results. Next time you’re shopping for a probiotic, remember that CFU count is only part of the picture. Find the research, check the survival rates, and make sure you’ve got the information to make the right decision for your body.