Supplements can be confusing. Firstly, there is no regulation enforced in the supplement world, and that means that anyone can say what they like about a probiotic. That can make life very difficult for someone attempting to find the right type of supplement for their particular problem.
After all, we’re all different and need various aspects to be covered when it comes to overall health and wellbeing.
Probiotics are a supplement type which fall into this category. Aside from learning about the various strains, you also need to think about another term which may be extremely confusing at first – CFU.
What is a CFU?
This term doesn’t need to be confusing once you’ve realised what it is and the general guidelines to follow when selecting a probiotic for your needs. Put simply, CFU means colony forming units.
The scientific explanation of that is how many bacteria that are found within the supplement are able to divide and then go on to form colonies. It’s basically a measurement of the strength of the probiotic if you really want to simplify it. If the bacteria are active and in good health, they are strong, and therefore able to create these colonies.
From that explanation you would think that the higher the CFU amount, the better the quality the supplement, right? This is where it gets complicated, because that isn’t always the case.
More CFU = Better Probiotic?
Firstly, we need to consider the fact that, as we’ve already mentioned, the probiotic supplement world doesn’t have any set regulation. This means that you can say anything about the CFU count you like, or nothing at all.
Some products you research might tell you all abut the different strains they contain, and give you all the big-selling benefits, but there will be no mention at all of this CFU measurement. Others will be vague on other details but talk up how they have a high CFU count on their product.
Confusing, as you can imagine!
The other point to remember is that a higher CFU doesn’t always mean the product is better. If you compare two supplements and one has a specific strain within it only, and a high CFU of around 45 million, you would consider that to be better, right? Not always.
The other product might have 15 different probiotic strains within it and a lower CFU, and still be better. That is because you’re getting a more varied benefit, as some strains are better for some problems than others.
Finding the right product is such a personal deal that CFU measurements can’t be the be all and end all.
How Much CFU is Enough?
When you start looking into products, you’ll find some that tell you about a CFU of 5 million, and that sounds a lot – it is. On the other hand, you’ll see some products which boast 45 million per serving, and even more.
It’s more about the actual strains included and what you want to take the probiotic for, rather than the CFU itself. You might also see products which say they have a CFU of 50 million or even more. You should bear in mind that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that products in excess of 45 million CFU really have more of a benefit.
The best rule to go by is this – if you are simply looking for a probiotic which is enough to improve your gut health and bring you other non-specific benefits, a product with 4 billion to around 15 billion is enough. In this case, you’ll probably notice a smoother running digestive system and that may be enough for you.
“General Health – 4-15 billion
Specific Gut Health Issue – 15 billion upwards”
On the other hand, if you have a specific gut health issue that you want to target, e.g. Crohn’s Disease, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease etc, then you should probably think about going for product which has a CFU of 15 million and upwards.
As you can see, it’s very much about personal choice and personal requirements. We’re all individual and that means our supplement choices need to be equally as individual.
Finding The Right Supplement
The first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor before you start to take any type of supplement. He or she can tell you whether you’re suitable to take these types of supplements, and the ones you should be thinking about.
There isn’t a huge amount of evidence to suggest that there are contraindications for probiotics, but then again, there isn’t a huge amount of evidence to suggest that there aren’t either. Your doctor will be able to give you the best advice based on your past medical history and the conditions and medications you currently have.
From there, it’s really a case of research and reviews are certainly going to be the best starting point. There is a lot of content online which will help you choose. Again, make sure that your final choice is backed up by a reliable source, and studies if at all possible.
Whilst there certainly needs to be further studies and research into probiotic use, it’s a case of waiting for this time to come. The more we learn about probiotics, the easier it will be to find the best supplement for an individual. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from! You can have a look at some of our detailed reviews here:
- Best probiotics for men
- Best probiotics for women
- Best probiotics for IBS
- Best probiotics for weight loss
You only have to do a quick search online and you’ll see the sheer number of products available. Going with a big named brand is a good way to ensure peace of mind, but the number of strains, types of strains, and of course, the CFU count is also something you should pay attention to before making your final decision.
We recommend Complete Probiotics Platinum by 1MD as a starting point. You can read a detailed buyers guide to this product here. It has a high CFU count (around 50 billion) but also has a good level of overall strain diversity.
Remember, the CFU count is important, but it is certainly not the be all and end all of a supplement’s power.