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Updated 24 August 2018

Probiotic labels explained

Looking at the probiotics on the pharmacy shelf and not sure where to start?

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It’s important to choose a probiotic supplement that best suits your needs and your particular diagnosis or health condition.

In addition, you have to make sure that you take them for the right amount of time.

Use the following steps to help you choose the right probiotic:

1.) Determine the type of probiotic strain that’s needed to treat your health condition. 

2.) Find a product that contains the probiotic strain.

3.) Look for the correct genus, species and strain. You can find this information on the supplement label. It’s the strain of the bacteria that’s most important and which determines if the product is going to work for a certain condition.

For example:

  • Bifidobacterium longum R0157 breaks down into:
    - Genus: Bifidobacterium
    - Species: longum
    - Strain: R0157

4.) Take at least 100 million CFU/day to benefit from probiotics. The dose may vary for different health conditions, so you may need to take a higher dose for certain conditions.

More tips on taking probiotics

  • Take the probiotic daily. Without a regular intake, probiotics don’t survive in the colon for more than one or two weeks.
  • Store your probiotic properly. Probiotics are very sensitive to temperature, air, light and moisture. Use either a cool, dark cupboard or the refrigerator.
  • Also check that the probiotic comes with some kind of prebiotic, such as inulin or fructo-oligosaccharides. A prebiotic provides “food” for the bacteria in the probiotic supplement. This helps to maximise the amount of beneficial bacteria that survive the journey to the intestine. You’ll need at least 10g of prebiotics each day. Inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides are found naturally in foods like chicory, artichokes, onions and garlic. Some supplement companies add prebiotics to foods, so check labels and ingredient lists for amounts.
  • Lastly, keep in mind that probiotics can’t replace conventional treatment methods. For example, if diarrhoea persists, or if you think you may be lactose intolerant or have another serious gastrointestinal problem, it’s important to consult a medical doctor.

Warnings: 
Pregnant women as well as people with a weakened immune system (e.g. people with HIV/AIDS) or major illness (that requires hospitalisation) should always speak to their healthcare provider before taking probiotics. Also always consult a doctor before giving a probiotic to a baby.

If you have milk or soy allergy, be very cautious when taking probiotics. Some strains of probiotics may contain milk or soy protein. Check the label or call the company to be sure. 

Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology. April 2018.

 
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