Updated: Apr 2, 2019
So what is CFU?
Finding the right probiotic for you can be overwhelming enough with so much competition and different advertising approaches on the market and if you have shopped for a probiotic before, you will have noticed that all probiotics emphasize the CFU count known as colony forming units which represent the number of live probiotic bacteria identified in each gram or serving. They denote how many bacteria in probiotics are able to divide and form colonies.
Probiotic manufacturers are aware that most consumers do not fully understand the functioning of probiotics when ingested or what criteria to use when selecting a good probiotic supplement. As a result, there is a current trend emerging in Australia with manufacturers boosting the CFU count in their probiotics as a comparison within the competing market to influence decisions of the uninformed consumer. This trend has shown the pressure evident with other manufacturers who are feeling the pinch to follow suit with the concept of more is better. With this explosion of unnecessary high CFU count increases within probiotics on the market, the uninformed consumers have been miss-guided to believe that a higher CFU count is what is important when comparing probiotics on the market when in fact, this could not be further from the truth and there is so much more to consider when selecting the right probiotic formula.
How to choose a good probiotic to optimise your health
1. MULTI STRAIN: Choose a probiotic that contains as many different species and strains of bacteria as possible to maximize the repopulation of beneficial species in the gut. A multi strain formula with a content of 12 – 18 different strains will have a better chance of deriving benefits than formulas with single species of beneficial flora.
2. GROUPS OF BACTERIA: Choose a probiotic that contains a mixture of strains from different groups of bacteria species. Recommended groups may include: Lactobacilii, Bifidobacteria, Streptococcus faecalis and/or bacillus subtilis (soil bacteria). A good beneficial yeast such as Saccharomyces Boulardii is also well known for it’s many benefits.
3. BACTERIA CONCENTRATION AND CFU: Contain the right concentrated amount of beneficial bacteria: colony forming units (CFU’s) to survive the perilous acid journey through the gut. 15 – 20 Billion CFU is a good range for an adult to maintain general health. Higher doses for specific health ailments can be advisable and recommended by your healthcare practitioner.
4. STRENGTH AND STABILITY: The manufacturer of the probiotic you choose should stand behind their claims for probiotic strength throughout the shelf life of the product and be prepared to provide manufacture test results to show the probiotic strength, bacterial composition and stability.
Our body naturally has about 100 trillion bacteria floating around at any given time and science is only familiar with a fraction of these species. There is still so much to learn about our microbiome but it makes sense to maximise the number of different strains from different groups within a probiotic to help colonise the already existing trillions of bacteria in our gut with concentrated amounts of friendly gut flora.
Timmerman et al. (2004) in the International Journal of Food Microbiology 96, summarised a group of studies comparing the functionality and efficiency of mono (single) strains, multi strains and multispecies probiotics. His findings revealed that multi strain probiotics are indeed more effective than mono strain probiotics and that multi species containing multiple strains can be even more effective than the multi strain probiotics.
One of the studies compared by Timmerman et al. included the probiotic mono strain Saccharomyces Boulardii which revealed that it left the microflora unchanged when supplemented on it’s own. This shows how significant it is to have as many different species as possible when selecting a probiotic formula and how a variety of strains from different species work in synergy with Saccharomyces Boulardii. A lot of attention has been paid to S. Boulardii, for its benefits to reduce diarrhoea and affects in killing the overgrowth of Candida Albicans (a yeast bacteria), however supplementing it alone without the additional effects derived from a multispecies/multi strain probiotic formula has shown to fail to meet the desired effects in repopulating the gut as they work in a symbiotic relationship.
It is commonly accepted by scientists that probiotics must have a minimum of 1 million LIVE CFU of good bacteria strains per gram to ensure that they reach the areas of the gut where they may do their work to colonize. The recommended amount for an adult is at least 15 to 20 billion of bacteria cells per gram (15 - 20 billion CFU per serve) or higher for major health complaints. Major health complaints may be associated with severe eczema, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease and other severe digestive diseases and disorders. You need to provide large enough doses to see an improvement, however it is important to be cautious of probiotics that contain CFU amounts that are too high for immune compromised patients because it can bee too much for their immune system to cope with.
CFU counts that are too high for immune compromised individuals may result in a sever die off reaction and make the patient’s condition even worse. It is also worthwhile noting that formula’s with extremely high CFU counts, should not be the deciding factor when selecting a probiotic as the only number that matters is how many bacteria make it to your gut alive and the number of strains and species.
CFU counts don’t tell you anything about how a probiotic has been prepared to maintain it’s strength as it passes through the stomach acid to colonise the lower intestines. Beware of manufacturers who market with this kind of advertising approach. What CFU does allow you to identify is the dosage measurement required for your particular health concern provided by your practitioner. In terms of CFU, more is not better after a certain value point.
You will come across some probiotics that contain bacteria strengths far and beyond the recommended amount to colonise the GutBiome, thus creating a severely potent probiotic that is unnecesary. Further to this, we discussed earlier that probiotics with such high FCU's may produce a severe die off reaction and consequently make the patient very sick and weak.
Another important consideration in relation to the CFU count is whether the probiotic dosage delivery has the capacity to administer smaller dosage quantities than that identified on the label serving suggestion. People who are taking a probiotic for the first time and/or who have an identified gut related disorder will without a doubt produce a die off reaction when introducing good bacteria to their microbiome for the first time and that is why it is important to introduce probiotics at a lower dose and increase it gradually over time to control the die off reaction. If the CFU count is too high per serving, it will be difficult for the patient to split a capsule containing 50 or 100 billion CFU to measure a controllable amount of 5 - 20 billion CFU. This is why a capsule containing a low CFU per capsule or a probiotic powder allowing for incremental smaller dose is best. When introducing beneficial microorganisms to your GutBiome for the first time, it will iniciate a war between the good and bad bacteria. The beneficial mircoorganisms will eventually colonise and kill of the bad bacteria. As the pathogenic bacteria die off in the GutBiome, they relases a flood of toxins to which they produce throughout the body which can cause a variety of reactions to the host and therefore emphasising the importance of introducing probioitics on a lower dose to start with. This is why Probiotics with smaller measurable amounts with the ability to increase the dose to the therapeutic amount will gradually allow the individual to reach the therapeutic dose at a pace that allows the avoidance of digestive upset.
GutBiome Synbiotic Powder has been designed to produce 5 billion probiotic microorganisms (CFU) per scoop so that it is easy to establish small enough doses for sensitive people whilst being able to build up to the therapeutic dose as required for further gut healing. Some doses may even need to be a half or a quarter of a scoop for more immune compromised individuals. GutBiome has a broad spectrum of 4 beneficial species with a good mixture of 18 beneficial strains, each working together in a symbiotic relationship. It maintains its reputation to meet all the Criteria to be a consumer focused product and has proven its value shown in clinical trials with specific microorganisms within the formula that meet the required CFU criteria to obtain the trialed results.
Higher CFU formulas beyond the required recommended amount suggested to optimise health is generally considered a waste. A CFU count higher than 50 billion are more than likely just a marketing scheme to make consumers think that added cells equals added benefits. All this means is that you might be paying a higher price tag for something that won't offer you any further benefit. Whilst a good probiotic formula needs to have a certain CFU count (such as that discussed) to be considered beneficial, it is best to focus on the number of different species and multiple strains with a good yeast such as Saccharomyces Boulardii added and then look for the right concentrated amount of bacteria required (CFU); not too little and not too much.