The 9 Most Common Myths About Probiotics
Research on gut health and the effects of the human microbiome has boomed in the past decade or so––a whole new world of information has opened up about the role that the gut plays in health and well-being that we never could have imagined even a few years ago!1
And while this is fantastic, it also means that sometimes information on the subject flows a little faster than the science. Rumors about probiotics are often perpetuated out of the best of intentions, but they can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings.
Since we’re passionate about staying at the forefront of microbial health research and the power of probiotics, we've decided to compile (and demystify!) nine of the most common myths we hear and lay them to rest for good.
1. If your probiotics aren't refrigerated, all the bacteria in them are dead
Here's the thing: bacteria are delicate, and they die off quickly when exposed to moisture, air, and heat. That's one of the reasons that many probiotics companies ask you to refrigerate your probiotics. Unfortunately, most of these probiotics aren't refrigerated properly when they're being transported or when they're in storage before being sold. This means that it's anyone's guess as to how many live bacteria actually make it to you by the time you buy the bottle and put it in your fridge.
Some probiotics (Hyperbiotics included) are an exception to this rule, though. We use a patented manufacturing process called LiveBac® that increases the stability of our formulas without refrigeration and enables us to guarantee their shelf life until the date of expiration found on the bottom of your bottle. While it's still a good idea to keep your formulas in the fridge (or freezer!) if you happen to live somewhere that's hot or humid, with Hyperbiotics, you'll still be getting the helpful bacteria you need by storing your bottles in a cool, dry place.
2. Live bacteria make milk curdle
This urban legend has been floating around the Internet for a while, but it's just that––a legend. The story goes that you can test your probiotics to see whether the bacteria are still alive by putting them in a little bit of milk and seeing whether it starts to curdle after a day or two. And while some strains of bacteria do make milk curdle in large enough doses—and within a specific temperature range—this certainly isn't the case for all probiotics.
In fact, Bifidobacterium strains won't do this at all in the presence of oxygen. So unless you've got a lab, leave the milk test behind, and ensure the viability of your probiotics by buying a high-quality formula instead.
3. Probiotics work instantly
One of the beneficial aspects of probiotics is that they do actually start to colonize and set up shop in your gastrointestinal tract as soon as you take them. But like anything that grows in nature, it takes a little bit of time for these beneficial bacteria to really flourish so they can support you. Plus, everyone's gut microbiome is unique––the particular blend and number of existing bacteria in the gut is different for everyone.2
This is why not everyone has the same experience when they first start taking probiotics. How fast your new bacterial friends take hold depends on a variety of factors, such as how much you're taking, whether you're taking a prebiotic with it, what you're eating, how much you're exercising, and what the composition of your gut microbiome was like to start with.
One thing remains the same no matter who you are though: as long as you're taking a viable probiotic, the bacteria in it will start colonizing and supporting your health, whether you notice their presence of not.
4. You only need one or two strains of probiotics
It’s really important to remember that not all strains of probiotics are the same. Each are unique and serve specific purposes with the community of your body. To really encourage your gut health, you don't want to overwhelm your gut with one type of bacteria—you want to support as many ecological niches within your microbiome as you can, because the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the healthier it's likely to be.7
Think about it this way: if the Earth’s animals were all being depleted, you wouldn’t necessarily want to repopulate the world with millions of lions and tigers as that would lead to an imbalance in the food chain and ecosystem. Instead, you’d want to replenish as many species as possible so that everything in the environment can thrive.
So, to get the best support from your probiotic supplement, you should try supplementing with a whole range of beneficial bacteria––they each have their own specialties, so you'll be covering your bases as well as diversifying your microbiome.
5. Probiotics are a miracle cure
Probiotic supplements are incredibly powerful, but they're not a magic bullet, nor are they intended to cure your ailments. While we can see why some people might get that idea––after all, probiotics play a role in everything from your brain function and digestion to the health of your skin and even the quality of your sleep––they are, ultimately, just one piece (albeit an essential one) in the vibrant health puzzle.
And just like any other thing you do to support good health, they work best when you combine them with other health-promoting practices that nurture your microbial balance. For instance, your lifestyle makes a big difference in how effective your probiotics can be. After all, if you're taking a probiotic but then doing things that deplete your gut microbiome, you could end up right back where you started.
To give those hard working bacteria the support they need to support you, it's important to become mindful of your diet, the exercise you may or may not be getting, your sleeping habits, and the amount of exposure you get to antibacterial substances.
When it comes to diet, a diverse mix of organic, local produce is ideal. Even better, include lots of prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are to probiotics as fertilizer is to a garden: prebiotic foods break down into substances that feed your good bacteria so they can grow and crowd out the bad guys.4
Similarly, your gut microbiome thrives when you exercise regularly, so much so that you can create a positive cycle when it comes to exercising and your gut. You exercise, which helps keep your gut microbiome happy. When your gut microbiome is balanced, you feel energized, because you're now able to properly absorb nutrients from the food you're eating, plus your circadian rhythms are supported for healthy sleep. When you're feeling good in general, you're more likely to feel like exercising, which keeps your microbiome in good shape, and so on.5
Finally, it's important to be aware of your exposure to substances that either nurture or deplete your microbiome. While you can do a lot to expose yourself to helpful bacteria by spending time outside in nature, it's surprisingly easy to come into contact with antimicrobial substances (those that negatively affect your microbiome) without even realizing it. While most people tend to think of antibiotics and antibacterial substances as being found in food or as medicine, they're also commonly included in cleaning products and skin care products, so be sure you're reading labels!6,7
6. Good probiotics are always ultra-expensive
They don't have to be. While some supplements are subject to huge mark-ups, the quality of a probiotic isn't directly linked to its price. For instance, Hyperbiotics is more affordable than many other probiotics, a lovely benefit we can make happen because of the products' survivability, due to the patented Bio-tract® protection system.
Most probiotics are sold as veggie capsules, which means that they dissolve in your harsh stomach acids pretty much as soon as they enter your stomach. Manufacturers try to address this by packing hundreds of billions of living organisms into each tablet in the hopes that enough will survive to make a meaningful difference. Unfortunately, it doesn't usually work out that way––not to mention that all those organisms are expensive!
But out BIO-tract® delivery method protects the delicate bacteria until they make it to your intestines, where they're needed most. The result? We don't have to pack a bunch of bacteria to serve as "cannon fodder" into each tablet, since we know that the bacteria we include are actually getting to where they need to go. Since we don't have to produce more organisms, we can save on our costs, which means that you can save, too. End result: you get the same number of beneficial flora in your gut for a fraction of the cost.
7. Soil Based Organisms (SBOs) are the same as other probiotics
SBOs are a specific type of supplement that's made with bacteria from the soil, as opposed to the bacteria that are naturally present in our guts. While being exposed to SBOs by spending time outside can be good for your health, they're not great as a supplement for a couple of reasons.
First, although we used to have more exposure to SBOs in our microbiome simply because we were spending more time outside and not cleaning our produce so thoroughly, they were never a part of the symbiotic relationship we have with our native gut bacteria.
Second, since we've changed our lifestyle and consequently, have less exposure to SBOs, our guts aren't as used to them as they used to be, which means that SBOs can potentially take over your gut microbiome, especially if it's already depleted. They reproduce so quickly and are so hard to get rid of that many probiotics manufacturers consider them to be contaminants!
8. You only need probiotics if you're irregular
Probiotics can certainly help keep things moving, but they do a lot more than that. In fact, they've been shown to support everything from healthy weight management to a good mood. The reason they're such powerhouses is because of the gut microbiome's role in health maintenance. We're just now starting to get a sense of just how vast this role is, but research has shown that it's involved with digestion and metabolism, your immune response, and even the appearance of your skin.8,9,10,11,12
So if you want to take probiotics to support regularity, by all means, go for it! Just know that you'll also be supporting your overall health in a whole host of other ways.
9. You shouldn't take probiotics while you're pregnant
We're not sure how this one got started, but it's definitely not true. In fact, taking probiotics while you're pregnant can support you as you deal with common pregnancy concerns, maintain your healthy immune system, and help you pass on a robust microbiome to your baby when he's born, setting him up for a lifetime of optimal health.13,14
Taking a probiotic supports the proper absorption of nutrients, acting in harmony with your prenatal vitamins, plus it helps keep you regular. What's more, specific types of probiotics actually produce folate, which is hugely important for your baby's healthy development.15
And don't forget about your baby! Studies show that we actually get our "starter microbiome" from our mothers during birth and breastfeeding and that it all comes from mom’s gut! It's hard to overstate just how important this is: colonization with a good mix of beneficial bacteria early on supports nearly every aspect of a baby's health for the rest of his life. From immunity to development, the infant microbiome is critical for good health.
As with any relatively new field of research, there's a lot of information flying around about probiotics. By understanding what's true and what's not, you can make the best choices for your health and well-being, and choose a probiotic that really works for you.
1. Hao, W.L., Lee, Y.K. (2004). Microflora of the gastrointestinal tract: a review. Methods in Molecular Biology, 268, 491-502.
2. Yatsunenko, T., Rey, F.E., Manary, M.J., Trehan, I. . . . Gordon, J.I. (2012). Human Gut Microbiome Viewed Across Age and Geography. Nature 486(7402). doi: 10.1038/nature11053
3. Clemente, J. C., Pehrsson, E. C., Blaser, M. J., Sandhu, K., Gao, Z., Wang, B., . . . Dominguez-Bello, M. G. (2015). The microbiome of uncontacted Amerindians. Science Advances,1(3). doi:10.1126/sciadv.1500183
4. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Turnbaugh, P. J. (2013). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.
5. Campbell, S. C., Wisniewski, P. J., Noji, M., Mcguinness, L. R., Häggblom, M. M., Lightfoot, S. A., . . . Kerkhof, L. J. (2016). The Effect of Diet and Exercise on Intestinal Integrity and Microbial Diversity in Mice. PLOS ONE, 11(3).
6. Strachan, D. P. (1989). Hay fever, hygiene, and household size. BMJ, 299(6710), 1259-1260.
7. Pennisi, E. 2008. Bacteria Are Picky About Their Homes on Human Skin. Science 320(5879). doi: 10.1126/science.320.5879.1001
8. Quinten, T., Philippart, J., Beer, T. D., Vervarcke, S., & Driessche, M. V. (2014). Can the supplementation of a digestive enzyme complex offer a solution for common digestive problems? Archives of Public Health, 72(Suppl 1).
9. Ley, R. E., Turnbaugh, P. J., Klein, S., & Gordon, J. I. (2006). Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature, 444(7122), 1022-1023.
10. Jensen, G. S., Patterson, K. M., Barnes, J., Schauss, A. G., Beaman, R., Reeves, S. G., & Robinson, L. E. (2008). A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Pilot Study: Consumption of a High-Metabolite Immunogen from Yeast Culture has Beneficial Effects on Erythrocyte Health and Mucosal Immune Protection in Healthy Subjects. The Open Nutrition Journal, 2(1), 68-75.
11. Bowe, W.P., Logan, A.C. (2011). Acne Vulgaris, Probiotics and the Gut-Brain-Skin Axis - Back to the Future? Gut Pathogens, 3(1). doi:10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
12. Guvenc, I.A., Muluk, M.B., Mutlu, F.S., Eski, E., Altintoprak, N., Oktemer, T., & Cingi, C. (2016). Do probiotics have a role in the treatment of allergic rhinitis?: A comprehensive systematic review and meta analysis. (2016). American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy. doi:10.2500/ajra.2016.30.4354
13. Lindsay, K. L., Walsh, C. A., Brennan, L., & McAuliffe, F. M. (2013). Probiotics in pregnancy and maternal outcomes: a systematic review. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 26(8), 772-778. doi:10.3109/14767058.2012.755166
14. Dominguez-Bello, M. G., Jesus-Laboy, K. M., Shen, N., Cox, L. M., Amir, A., Gonzalez, A., . . . Clemente, J. C. (2016). Partial restoration of the microbiota of cesarean-born infants via vaginal microbial transfer. Nature Medicine, 22(3), 250-253.
15. Sybesma, W., Starrenburg, M., Tijsseling, L., Hoefnagel, M., and Hugenholtz, J. (2003). Effects of Cultivation Conditions on Folate Production by Lactic Acid Bacteria. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 69(8), 4542-4548
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.