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What makes a good probiotic?

Not all probiotics are the same - the quality of the product in each individual development stage is of crucial importance for efficacy and tolerability. But how can you recognise a high-quality, medically relevant probiotic from the plethora of products on offer? We have summarised the most important criteria for you.
Quick Facts

All bacterial strains contained in the probiotic must be absolutely safe for humans and free from side effects, even when taken over a long period of time. Strict stability controls guarantee that the number of bacteria corresponds to the specifications until the end of the best-before date.

A probiotic should contain at least 1 billion bacteria per gram of powder. However, the idea that the more bacteria there are, the better, is not true! The optimal number of bacteria for a specific use is more relevant.

For a probiotic to be as effective as possible, it is essential to use naturally occurring strains of bacteria that our body recognises so that they can interact optimally with the bacteria in the body.

To preserve the bacteria for ingestion as a probiotic for several years, they are put into a kind of “hibernation” by freeze-drying. Special packaging protects the bacteria.

The great advantage of powder probiotics is that they are mixed in water before ingestion and the freeze-dried bacteria are revitalised in a gentle environment. This means that they become active and strong again before they reach the harsh environment of the digestive tract.

Studies show that the targeted combination of several bacterial strains is superior to taking a single strain in a variety of applications.

Proven safety and stability

A key criterion is the safety of a probiotic: all the bacterial strains it contains must be safe for humans and free from side effects, even when taken for a longer time. This is tested and guaranteed by authorised authorities.

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Safe probiotic strains have either the so-called QPS status (Qualified Presumption of Safety) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or the GRAS status (Generally Recognised As Safe) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or comparable safety standards. A high-quality probiotic is also subjected to strict stability controls, which guarantee that the number of viable bacteria not only corresponds to the specifications at the time of packing the product but also until the end of the best-before date.

Optimal CFU (Bacterial count)

To ensure that a sufficient number of live and active bacteria arrive at their site of action in the intestine, a probiotic should contain at least 1 billion viable bacteria per gram of powder. Their number is often expressed in colony-forming units (CFU).

However, it is important to realise that the widespread opinion that “a lot helps a lot” is not generally valid in this context. Even an extremely high number of bacteria (CFU) in a product does not necessarily mean that a probiotic is more effective. More relevant is the optimum number of bacteria for a specific use, which is ideally determined in clinical studies.

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Active human bacterial strains

Taking a probiotic only really makes sense if the bacteria it contains are active and arrive at their destination – the intestine – in large numbers. On their way through the digestive tract, they have to cope with stomach and bile acids or pancreatic secretions. For them to survive this hours-long passage alive, it is essential to use suitable bacterial strains with proven resistance to stomach acid and digestive juices.

For a probiotic to be as effective as possible, it is also essential to use naturally occurring bacterial strains that our body recognises so that they can interact optimally with the bacteria in the body. Yeasts and animal bacteria, on the other hand, are not microorganisms naturally present in our bodies.

Durability and activity

Bacteria generally die after just a few days if the environment does not provide them with optimal living conditions. In order to preserve them for use as probiotics for several years, they are put into a kind of “hibernation” by freeze-drying. The addition of liquid (rehydration) wakes them up again and makes them active.

Special packaging such as sealed sachets or airtight glass containers protect the bacteria from environmental influences, such as moisture or excessively high temperatures, and prevents the bacteria from being activated or dying during the storage phase.

Probiotics are usually offered as a powder or in the form of capsules. The great advantage of powder is that it is dissolved in water (or another neutral liquid) before ingestion. In this way, the freeze-dried bacteria are revitalised in a gentle environment and are already active and strong before they reach the harsh environment of the digestive tract. A key factor for their survival.

When rehydrated outside the body, the bacteria ideally also have a source of food to help them gain additional strength. It therefore is optimal for a probiotic to also contain a mixture of fibre, enzymes and minerals that has been individually compiled for the bacteria it contains. This not only increases the bacteria’s chances of survival on the way to their destination, but also increases their activity and ability to multiply in the intestine.

Probiotics in capsule or powder form?

Scientific studies clearly show that bacteria in powder form survive the journey through the digestive tract almost unscathed. If the same bacteria are taken in the same quantity in capsule form, only one hundredth (1 %) of the original quantity of those bacteria is found in the large intestine at the end.

what makes a good probiotic

Scientifically tested bacteria combination

“Stronger as a team” is the motto of many bacterial strains, as most of them are proven team players. Scientific findings prove that the targeted combination of several bacterial strains, a so-called multi-species formulation, is superior to taking a single strain in a variety of applications. The potential of the individual strains can be further increased by combining bacterial strains.

However, as with humans, not all bacterial strains are equally well tolerated. Finding out which bacterial strains work well together and reinforce each other is therefore a crucial step in the development of a probiotic. It is therefore important to use the so-called “cross streak” method to prove which bacteria optimally support each other in developing their full potential.

In addition, the effectiveness of high-quality, medically relevant probiotics should be proven by scientific studies. This proves that the complex combination of the right bacteria for the respective area of use brings us the greatest possible benefit.

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