How to Read Supplement Facts?
You can find which strains are included in the probiotics from the supplement fact table on the product's bottle / box, but as a consumer, it is hard to extract meaning from that alone. Compared to many other medicines that usually have only one active ingredient, most probiotics have anywhere from two to ten active strains. Which one should you choose depends on your situation? Let's see some examples.
Situation 1. General Purpose Products
If you are of average healthy and need a generally good probiotic product, choose the probiotics with about 10 or more strains in it, because a mixture of probiotic strains has more beneficial effects than separate strains (1). We recommend that you find probiotics showing the total number of bacteria. The total number of bacteria being at around 10-50 billion CFU (colony forming unit) is appropriate for general purposes. More than this amount could be OK and considered safe, but it would be a waste of money because probiotics with a higher CFU are overpriced.
Situation 2. Specific Purpose Products
Based on human clinical trials, there are certain bacterial strains in probiotics that will treat specific symptoms. Check the supplement facts to discover which strains are in the probiotic, looking for specific names composed of 3 words, ending with numbers in most cases. Usually, there are only 2 to 3 strains in a product. It is beneficial to consume all of the strains proven effective to treat the ailment, but it is not that easy to find the product that you need. In the market, it is difficult to find products that clearly show the specific strains for certain symptoms. You can find 2 to 3 of these brands, at most, on the market.
Situation 3. General and Specific Purpose Products
You are looking for the probiotics to treat a specific ailment, but you also want to get the benefits of general probiotics, such as boosting the immune system and digestion. It would be perfect if you could find a product which has strains confirmed effective for the ailment, combined with some more strains for general purposes. It is not that hard to find those products. However, the problem is finding a product with proportional strains for specific and general purposes. If your priority is to treat the ailment, other general benefits of probiotics being secondary, then I recommend that you take specific probiotics that clearly show the number of confirmed bacterial strains and general probiotics together.
- Chapman CM, Gibson GR, Rowland I. Health benefits of probiotics: are mixtures more effective than single strains? Eur J Nutr. 2011 Feb;50(1):1-17.