A quick guide for choosing the right probiotic product
Probiotics are not all the same
When a health benefit is associated with a particular probiotic strain in a scientific study, the benefit is specific to that particular probiotic strain only.
For example, the health benefits associated with our Lactobacillus rhamnosus, LGG®1 (hereafter referred to by use of the trademark LGG®) strain do not extend to other Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains. This means that the Lactobacillus rhamnosus, GR-1® is not able to exert the same health benefits as LGG®, despite them both being Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains.
If a probiotic product contains more than one probiotic strain, it does not necessarily mean it will provide more of a health benefit. Specific combinations of strains (i.e., multi-strain products) must have demonstrated a health benefit in a scientific study.2
The scientific results of a probiotic strain are specifically related to the participants of that particular study (for example, if the benefit was observed in a study of adults, then the strain does not necessarily benefit a newborn baby).3
The scientific results of a probiotic strain are specifically related to the health area investigated (i.e., if a strain is associated with supporting immune health, it does not mean it is able to support gut health, oral health, etc.).3
Just the right amount
Probiotic products contain millions to billions of live bacteria, each of which can form bacterial communities (i.e., colonies); thus, the number of probiotic bacteria in a product is given as Colony Forming Units (CFU).2
A higher CFU number does not mean it is a better probiotic.4
500 million to 50 billion CFU have been associated with various health benefits, how much is needed depends on the strain used and the health area.5
Read more about probiotic strains and their benefits for respiratory health, occasional loose stools, and excessive crying and fussing.
What to look for?
Bacterial strains Open Close
Let’s take Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, LGG® as an example.
‘Lactobacillus’ is the genus, ‘rhamnosus’ is the species, ‘GG’ is the strain, and ‘LGG®’ is the trademark of this particular strain manufactured by Chr. Hansen. If the strain is not listed, it is not possible to know which area of health this probiotic product may support.
So, choose products that include the strain and not just the genus or species. This is important because different strains can support different health areas due to their unique characteristics, even when they come from the same genus and species.
Read more in what are probiotics?
Claims & recommended usage Open Close
Total active cell count (CFU) Open Close
The number of bacteria in a probiotic product decreases with time
Probiotics are live microorganisms and they must be alive when consumed for them to function appropriately.
The number of live bacteria in a probiotic product will decrease between manufacturing and purchasing. On a probiotic label, pay attention to the CFU level at the ‘end of shelf life’ (a product's potential expiration). This number should be within the same range as was used in the scientific study that demonstrated the strain’s health benefit.2
The amount of probiotic (CFU) present on the ‘manufacturing date’ is not as important as the amount present at the 'end of shelf life'.2
Not all probiotics need to be refrigerated to maintain their functionality; actually, most can be kept at room temperature.4
Safe to consume confidently
People who are generally well may consume probiotics as part of their daily diet.4
The probiotic strain should be approved for human consumption by a recognized regulatory or food safety authority:
- GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) notified to the FDA in the US6
- QPS (Qualified Presumption of Safety) granted by EFSA in Europe7
Consult a health care professional to find out more about probiotics to support health.
LGG® is a registered trademark of Chr. Hansen A/S.
The article is provided for informational purposes regarding probiotics and is not meant to suggest that any substance referenced in the article is intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent any disease.
1. Hojsak I, et al. Pediatrics. 2010;125(5):e1171-7. (PubMed)
2. Jackson SA, et al. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2019;10:739. (PubMed)
3. McFarland LV, et al. Front Med (Lausanne). 2018;5:124-. (PubMed)
4. World Gastroenterology Organisation. World Gastroenterology Organisation Global Guidelines - Probiotics and prebiotics. 2017.
5. Hao Q, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011(9):Cd006895. (PubMed)
6. Food and Drug Administration. GRAS Notice Inventory > Agency Response Letter. GRAS Notice No GRN 000049. 2002.
7. EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ). EFSA Journal. 2015;13:4331.