After hopping on the probiotic train, you’ve made popping a capsule of good-for-you bacteria as much of your routine as your morning coffee run. But truthfully—you don’t feel much different than before you started the ritual. Sound about right?
Jamie Morea, founder of Hyperbiotics, says there’s a chance your probiotic isn’t actually affecting you, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on the gut-boosting supplement.
“Everything—from our processed-food diets, stress, and antibacterial products to antibiotics both as medicine and in our food supply—can leave us extremely depleted in probiotics, which are one of the most crucial aspects of health,” Morea says.
But how can you tell whether the supplement you’re taking is actually getting to work within your system? The first step is listening to your body, says Morea. After recovering from an intestinal parasite she contracted while traveling, none of the probiotics Morea tried seemed to make a difference in her gut health—so she started doing her own research.
What she found was multiple downfalls in existing probiotic products—and inspiration to create her own.
“As I fought back and slowly recovered, I gained knowledge, compassion, empathy, and understanding,” Morea says. “Most of all, though, I gained a sense of purpose to help other people maintain the health I had so very nearly lost.”
Before you toss your probiotic bottle in the garbage, keep reading for reasons it might not be packing its full potential—and how to change that.
1. The strains are dead
Did you know some supplements are allowed by law to label their probiotics with the number of living strains they contained at the time of manufacture? Meaning the bottle you purchase may at one time have had 50 billion CFU (colony-forming units: science speak for how many living organisms are in your probiotic), but may be nothing more than an expensive placebo by the time it gets to you.
“Probiotics are sensitive organisms and need to be handled and manufactured significantly differently than your standard vitamins, minerals, and fish oils,” says microbiologist Tony Blanch, which is why most brands need to be refrigerated from manufacture, through transit, and on to the shelf. (Hint: A lot of them skip refrigeration in one or more of those steps.)
Give your probiotic bonus points if it can survive without refrigeration entirely, like Hyperbiotics’ formulas. That also comes in handy while traveling, so you can safely take them with you on the road (when your gut is extra likely to get thrown out of whack).
2. The strains don’t survive in your digestive tract
Taking a probiotic in a veggie-based capsule might seem like the healthy choice, but it turns out that vegetable shield probably isn’t as strong as it needs to be to protect the bacteria from your stomach acid.
To see results, you need the bacteria to make it through your stomach and into your digestive tract alive, but up to 96 percent of probiotics die upon contact with stomach acid, says Morea.
Synthetic, delayed-release capsules can help with keeping the bacteria kicking longer, but even most of those deliver only a 45-minute delay (AKA not enough time for the probiotic to travel through the war zone of your stomach before it gets zapped).
Look for a probiotic with a longer delayed delivery mechanism, such as Hyperbiotics, which uses a special, patented technology to release bacteria throughout your gut over about eight hours—and still is made up of 100 percent vegetarian ingredients.
3. Lack of routine
Be honest, how many times have you arrived to work and thought, “Shoot, I forgot to take my probiotic this morning?” Too many days in a row of rain-checking your bacterial BFF will make it hard for it to do its job.
“It is important, especially when you first start a taking probiotic, to get into a routine of taking it on a daily basis to populate your intestinal tract with good bacteria,” Blanch says.
Repeated use is key to ensuring the probiotic bacteria can colonize so you can experience all the goodness it has to offer, like healthier skin, better digestion, supported immune system, and healthy brain function. Luckily, studies suggest it takes just 21 days to establish a habit, so if you set reminders for yourself every day for three weeks, taking your probiotic should become second-nature in no time.
4. The strains aren’t right for you
Because there are so many factors that can disrupt our gut flora—from stress to toxins in the air—you need to make sure your probiotic is covering all the bases if you really want to feel the effects. Taking a probiotic like Hyperbiotics that includes as many as 15 different strains, rather than a singular one, can help ensure you’re addressing the issue from all angles.
Oh, and you’ll want to make sure the bacteria in your probiotic is native to the human body. Some probiotics use soil-based organisms (think: bacteria found in dirt) that can cause health problems if your gut isn’t properly colonized with enough human resident good bacteria.
So it’s probably wise to stick to the stuff naturally found in your body, because you’re a human, not a plant (no matter how many succulents you have in your apartment). Luckily, Hyperbiotics has got you covered there, too.
5. Unrealistic expectations
For all their powerful benefits, probiotics aren’t actually magic (bummer, right?). Like multivitamins and other natural supplements, their effects are often cumulative and require patience, Blanch says.
“Some consumers expect immediate results when they take a nutritional supplement,” Blanch says. “These are not expensive prescription drugs, which are designed to treat specific conditions and have an immediate impact. Instead, they support the foundation of overall health.”
If you are a generally healthy person without digestive issues, you should notice improvements in your immune system and overall health over the longterm. People with digestive problems should begin seeing a shift in a healthier direction within a matter of weeks. In a word: Holler.
Originally published on WELL+GOOD.