- Purchasing a probiotic can seem intimidating at first, but by understanding the terminology associated with probiotic supplements, finding the right one will be easy.
- A probiotic’s name is defined by its genus, species, and strain. The strain is arguably the most important.
- Colony forming units are the proper way in which a probiotic should be measured on the back of a supplement label.
- Just because a supplement has many strains and a high CFU count, doesn’t mean that it is effective for both balancing vaginal pH and promoting digestive health.
- The best species of Lactobacillus for vaginal health include Acidophilus, Rhamnosus, and Reuteri.
Probiotics are essential. In fact, they are the very essence of our being. Our body contains just as much, if not more, bacteria as it does human cells (literally in the trillions). So it’s important that we support and nurture these good bacteria!
The challenge with probiotic supplements is that marketers have caught wind of the importance of this growing category, resulting in the market being flooded by inefficient products with unsubstantiated, or unproven, benefits. With every product being hailed as the latest and greatest, it makes it difficult to choose which is the right probiotic for your gut and vaginal health.
OB/GYN Dr. Peskin has lived through these difficulties. He’s seen an increase in demand for probiotics from his patients, who come to him asking which products they should take.
“The problem is when my patients ask whether or not a product is good; it’s difficult to say yes or no because the evidence for a specific strain may not be there.”
We understand that the average consumer is going to have difficulties choosing the right probiotic supplement, so we are here to help you break it down; whether it’s Happy V’s® or another brand – we want what’s best for you!
To better understand probiotics, you should be aware of the terminology that is used when it comes to their supplement counterparts.
What is a Bacterium?
A probiotic is a type of bacterium. Bacteriums are single-celled microscopic organisms that survive in all environments, including in every organ of the human body. From your gut to the vagina to bowels, and just about everywhere in between, there are trillions of both good and bad bacteria living in harmony and competing for nutrients that will determine your health.
Although bad bacteria get a bad rap, it’s important to know that having a balanced good-to-bad bacteria ratio is okay and you don’t need to fear bad bacteria as much as you think you should.
What is a Probiotic?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that provide a benefit to your body’s function and overall health. There are literally trillions of good bacteria that help keep your immune system in check, keep pH levels in the vagina acidic, and help with digestion. When we talk about having a balanced microbiome, probiotics are the good bacteria helping accomplish that.
How to choose the right probiotic supplement?
When you purchase food products or proteins, understanding the nutritional panel is pretty straight forward: you have your macronutrients —such as proteins— carbohydrates, and fats, which are converted into calories and added together to give you your total calorie count per serving.
A probiotic supplement is vastly different. You’ll notice that unlike a traditional supplement or food product, it has no calories and typically no nutrients. It contains scientific-sounding ingredients such as lactobacillus, and instead of using grams, ounces or milligrams, it uses a measurement standard known as CFUs, or colony-forming units – we’ll get more into this later.
It’s important to understand the jargon that comes with a probiotic supplement so that you can choose the best product for the health benefit you are seeking. And with a little support, you’ll have an easier time understanding probiotic supplements.
Understanding a probiotic culture’s name
When you look at a probiotic supplement label, you’ll often notice multiple lactobacillus species in the same formula. We don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by this!
Every probiotic culture can be broken down into three elements: the genus, species, and strain.
Happy V® contains the probiotic Lactobacillus Acidophilus LA-14®
What is a probiotic genus?
Probiotics are broken down into segments we call “Genus”. For example, think of a dog and a bird as being of two separate genera of animals that are not, in the general scheme of things, similar whatsoever. However, within a single genus mutual traits are generally the same.
Most probiotics on the market consist of the two main genera which have been heavily studied: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
Bifidobacteria is a gram-positive, nonmotile, often branched anaerobic bacteria which is also one of the major bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract, vagina, and mouth of mammals. Clinical studies show that this species of bacteria supports the immune system, limits the growth of competing for bad bacteria, and helps breakdown lactose.
Lactobacillus is a genus that is known to produce lactase and lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural defense mechanism that helps inhibit the growth of pathogens or bad bacteria.
This probiotic genus is especially important, as the vaginal flora is made up predominantly of lactobacillus probiotic species.
However, when we speak about clinically proven ingredients, simply purchasing a probiotic because it has the word lactobacillus on a product’s label doesn’t cut it. You need to know exactly which species of lactobacillus are being included. This is why it’s critical to also understand the species.
What is a probiotic species?
Different probiotic species are genetically different subsets of bacteria that still fall under the same genus. As a result, they will have different therapeutic benefits for different parts of the body.
Let’s go back to the example of dogs. Compare a labrador to a chihuahua: they are two different species of dogs but are still in the same genus that dogs fall under. Although you know that labradors and chihuahuas are different, they are still dogs.
The most common species that you’ll come across are L. Acidophilus, L. Rhamnosus, L. Reuteri, L. Crispatus, B. Breve, and B. Coagulans — all species that can be found in Happy V ® probiotic.
The most important species when it comes to vaginal wellness will be Lactobacillus Acidophilus, which makes up 95% of the flora in the vagina.
On food and supplement labels, probiotics are normally listed in the following format: species initial is first, followed by the entire strain name. So, Lactobacillus Acidophilus will just be L. Acidophilus.
Now that you know how to identify probiotics components, you will be able to look for the right species for your health. But, it doesn’t end there.
Have you ever picked up a probiotic supplement and seen next to the species a bunch of letters and numbers and wondered what they meant? Those letters and numbers are the most important part when choosing a high-quality product – and there’s a reason why.
What is a probiotic strain?
To really get the most effective dietary supplement, you need to look at the confusing mix of letters and numbers that we call the probiotic strain.
And because we love them so much, let’s go back to using dogs to explain the difference!
There are two types of Labradors, the American Labrador and the English Labrador. The English Lab is usually heavier with a thicker coat whereas the American Labrador has a more narrow head and a longer snout.
However and to illustrate the point, we know that either is a labrador and is a dog, but not all dogs are English nor American labradors.
To bring it back to the point at hand, in Happy V® Probiotic, we have a Lactobacillus (genus) Acidophilus (Species) LA-14® (Strain).
LA-14® is a clinically proven L. Acidophilus that was shown to colonize the vagina in 40 women in a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study at a dosage of 8 Billion CFU per day.
What’s important to know is that Lactobacillus Acidophilus was not proven to do this, only the strain LA-14 ® is proven to do that. Many times marketers will “borrow” clinical research and put it on their probiotic, even if it’s not the same strain being used. It’s important to do your research, pull out your phone, and search the probiotic’s strain, or simply don’t purchase a brand that does not share their strains facts.
What Is The Correct Probiotic Dosage?
Let’s use some of the strains in the Happy V® probiotic to better understand dosing.
The required dosing ranges from .5 Billion (Lactospore® ) to 10 Billion (Profem® patented L. Rhamnosus and L. Acidophilus). It’s imperative not to solely focus on the probiotic total count, meaning: don’t just pay attention to the front of the label.
Consider and make sure you read the back of the label, where the really juicy information is, going line by line to make sure you’re getting the right amount of probiotics for each strain based on clinical research.
So 100 Billion CFU – is this real?
Many companies will praise that their probiotic has 13 different strains and over 100 Billion CFU in each pill for a low price. It seems like it hits all the requirements – the right genus and species, a lot of CFUs and multiple strains – thus theirs is the supplement of best value.
But let’s be real: The CFU doesn’t matter.
There, we said it. What many marketers are basing their product efficacy on isn’t of real value to you, the customer.
The reason is simple: what matters are the clinical studies of a specific strain and whether or not the CFUs used in the clinical study are also the ones being used in that product.
Many companies will put their probiotics into a “blend”, so you really don’t know how much of a specific probiotic strain you are truly getting.
Know that proprietary blends are a loophole that allow brands to not share their “intellectual property”. They do this by not disclosing the number of milligrams of an ingredient or CFUs of a probiotic on their label. This allows brands to put a vast amount of probiotics in a single capsule and lower than beneficial dosages. This results in what we call probiotic stuffing.
What is Probiotic Stuffing?
Probiotic stuffing is the practice of including dozens of strains at low dosages in order to “stuff” the label with more probiotic cultures, making the product seem more attractive to the end consumer.
There are many ways that probiotic stuffing can occur:
- Marketers can include a single or very few great bacterias at the right dosages and then add more ineffective probiotic cultures so that they can stuff the supplement facts label.
- Marketers can use more of the cheap ineffective probiotic strains and then lower the dosage on the effective ones to cut costs, but still include them on the label.
- Marketers can add them all into a proprietary blend and not share how many CFUs are in any of them at all.
That’s why you should not fall for products promoting 50 Billion or 100 Billion CFUs as “maximum strength”, or the number of strains. We can’t emphasize this enough. Look for the products with the studies to back them up!
How do I convert CFU into Milligram?
CFUs stands for colony-forming units and is the proper measurement that should be used on a supplement label. Do not purchase products that use mg, or milligrams, instead of CFU.
Converting CFU to milligrams, or vice-versa can only be done if the brand has shared them both with you. Here’s an example from Happy V®:
Our ingredient Lactospore® comes in 100 Billion CFU per gram (different probiotic strains come in different potencies). However, in Happy V® we are only using .5 Billion CFUs per serving. Thus in order to convert you can use a formula such as cross multiplying in order to calculate how many milligrams are being used. In this scenario, 5mg of Lactospore® is used to provide .5 Billion CFU per serving in Happy V® Probiotic
Are more CFUs actually better?
It is a myth that you want the probiotic supplement that has the most CFUs. Rather, you want the probiotic strain with clinically proven data to support your health goals. Then, you want to confirm that the probiotic has that same amount in each serving.
Signs that probiotics are working
You know your body best! Ask yourself what drove you to buy the probiotic, what symptoms you were experiencing, and if they have been alleviated through the use of the product. Or are you experiencing a placebo effect? If you find that you are feeling better, then keep on moving forward!
Should I take probiotics daily?
The short answer is yes, you should be taking probiotics daily. However, if you are consuming probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, cheese, and fermented foods like kimchi daily, you may not need to take a probiotic every day. If your diet limits your intake of probiotics, such as a dairy-free diet, then we recommend that you do take a probiotic supplement daily.
How many servings of probiotics should I be getting per day?
The amount of probiotics you should take per day depends on your diet and health needs. Always consider the following:
- What benefits are you trying to achieve?
- What are the probiotic genus, species, and strain you are seeking?
- Does the strain have clinical studies to back up the potential benefits, or substantiated claims, you seek?
- And if so, does the supplement you are purchasing has the same number of colony-forming units (CFUs) [as shown in a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study] to give the host (you) the benefit you seek?
If the answers to all of these are yes, then you can take the amount that is recommended in the directions on the back of the supplement label.
Probiotic strains for women’s health
The best strains for women’s health include:
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus, which helps with balancing the vaginal pH
- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, which supports digestive and immune health assist with healthy weight management and supports women’s health
- Lactobacillus Reuteri, which has also been linked to supporting women’s digestive system
Probiotics — living bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for you, especially your digestive system and flora.
Lactobacillus — a rod-shaped bacterium that produces lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide from the fermentation of carbohydrates in order to multiply and stave off anaerobes.
Genus – a principal taxonomic category that ranks above species and below family
Species – a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.
Strain – genetic subtypes of probiotic species
Colony-Forming Units (CFU) – is a unit used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample