What Are The Probiotics?
"Probiotics are live microorganisms (e.g., bacteria) that are either the same as or similar to microorganisms found naturally in the human body and may be beneficial to health. Also referred to as "good bacteria" or "helpful bacteria," probiotics are available to consumers in oral products such as dietary supplements and yoghurts, as well as other products such as suppositories and creams. The body, especially the lower gastrointestinal tract (the gut), contains a complex and diverse community of bacteria (In the body of a healthy adult, cells of microorganisms are estimated to outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one). Although we tend to think of bacteria as harmful "germs," many bacteria actually help the body function properly. Most probiotics are bacteria similar to the beneficial bacteria found naturally in the human gut.”1

Measurement Standards
Probiotics are measured in colony forming units (CFU). CFUs are generally measured in the millions or billions per serving. Probiotics are most commonly beneficial bacteria, but can also be friendly fungal or other organisms, that are typically freeze-dried to stabilize them in an inert state during storage and production. Then their continued stability and viability, as measured by CFU counts when cultured, is dependent on limiting their exposure to stimulating environmental conditions such as warmth and moisture. Besides refrigerating all probiotics after opening, this protection can be done by adding freshness packets that help to absorb and reduce moisture in the package.

Temperature plays a role in the stability of probiotics. Colder air holds less moisture and is not in the ideal temperature range for the bacteria to commonly grow and thrive, thus inhibiting reactivation of the dormant organisms by depriving them of the warmth and moisture that represent their ideal growing conditions. High heat can also degrade the viability of these organisms.

Even under ideal storage conditions, the number of colonies forming units will slowly decline as months go on. For example, a typical number is a drop of 5% per month when stored in a refrigerator after opening. Refrigeration will prolong the potency and viability of most probiotics to maintain higher counts over a longer period of time.

Maintaining Potency
In order to meet label claims for probiotic CFU numbers, manufacturers including NOW Foods generally add an overage to allow for the natural decline in numbers over time. We test to assure that the product meets specifications and label claims in terms of potency (CFUs) at the time of manufacture. Stability studies utilizing the strains, potencies, and designated packaging for a specific product are also done as needed to generate data to calculate an experimental stability curve that predicts changing CFU counts throughout the shelf life of the product. However, the actual rate of change depends on the environment that the product is exposed to, especially if not kept refrigerated.

The rate of decline in viable CFU numbers can increase if a probiotic product is held in conditions that are very warm or moist, especially after opening when moisture can more easily get into the package. Because of the extreme variability of the seasonal weather and environmental conditions that a product may experience, and duration of these exposures, it’s not possible to precisely predict potency and shelf life accurately for every person’s situation across a wide geographical area. In some cases, it could happen that adverse conditions may lower probiotic counts below label claim.

Refrigeration after opening is ideal for storing probiotics. But if that is not possible, it is best to keep the package in a cool, dry place to maintain good stability. Unfortunately, many people tend to keep their supplements in the kitchen or bathroom, which are notorious for being warm and moist and known to shorten the shelf life of many kinds of supplements. Those conditions are ideal for bacterial and mould growth; which means that the probiotics will first tend to activate but then die off more quickly than expected since they are not yet in the human body where they have a chance to live, grow, and thrive. In these adverse conditions, probiotics may lose potency more rapidly than anticipated and thus may not meet label claims for CFU counts that are calculated based on a cool, dry place. On the other hand, refrigerating probiotic products will enhance viability and shelf life.

In testing designed to mimic exposures during transportation in a hot climate, a sealed probiotic formula exposed to a temperature of over 122° F for 24 hours still met label claim for CFU content. This indicates that this level of heat over that time period was not enough to kill many of the organisms in the package, so it would take even harsher conditions to rapidly degrade the potency of this specific probiotic product.

There is some evidence that even non-viable probiotic organisms left in the package after being exposed to unfavourable conditions may have some utility in gut health. For example, it is hypothesized that they may take up ecological space on the intestinal walls, which may help prevent the growth of opportunistic organisms vying for that same space. For example, inactivated Lactobacillus plantarum has been shown in clinical studies to support our natural immunity to foreign substances (i.e., so-called acquired immunity).2

The stability of a probiotic formula tested at the time of manufacture will depend on a combination of factors. Variations in packaging, temperature, and humidity will affect the viability of probiotic products before they are taken. Protective factors that help to preserve the freshness and viability of the probiotic strains in a supplement include refrigeration, resistant packaging, and storage in a cool, dry place.


1 Oral Probiotics: An Introduction. NCCAM Publication No. D345, Created January 2007, Updated November 2011. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), National Institutes of Health.

2 Hirose Y, Murosaki S, Yamamoto Y, Yoshikai Y, Tsuru T. Daily intake of heat-killed Lactobacillus Plantarum L-137 augments acquired immunity in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2006 Dec;136(12):3069-73. PubMed PMID: 17116721.

1. Anxiety
Looking for natural ways to treat anxiety is difficult because there are not many options. One simple easy thing you can try is taking probiotics. Research has found that there is a connection between the gut and your mental health. This is one unusual benefit of probiotics and most people don’t realize it because they think of anxiety as only related to the brain. Scientists have found that the bacteria in your gut may (be related to several mental health issues) have a link to autism, anxiety and schizophrenia.

2. Immune Booster
This is one of my favourite unusual health benefits of probiotics. You probably have heard those TV commercials touting the benefits of probiotics in yoghurt and how most of your immune system is in your gut. Well, I prefer eating fermented foods like sauerkraut with my meals, instead of sugary yoghurts, to get the benefits and boost my immune system. More research is being done on promising health benefits of probiotics but studies do show that these microorganisms benefit the immune system by calming your body’s inflammatory response and supporting activity in the immune system. Many say taking probiotics helps keep colds away and according to many health experts probiotics along with vitamin C, garlic, and vitamin D are good ways to combat a cold.

3. Acne
Research has found that probiotics can help clear acne-prone skin. What’s the reason for this? Recent studies have affirmed that there is a gut/skin connection. The problem is that our diets today often consist of processed foods and this along with significant stress in our daily lives, and the use antibiotics, often disrupt the delicate balance of microbes in our gut and increase inflammation of the skin.

Taking more good bacteria helps calm the inflammation by offsetting the colonization of the bad bacteria and probiotics have also been found to reduce the production of sebum. Sebum is the oily secretion of the sebaceous glands and if this is excessive it can be responsible for not only the oily skin but acne.

You can take probiotics both internally and externally for your skin. Taking probiotics both ways, topically and orally, has been found by the American Academy of Dermatology to be a promising way to take action in healing and treating acne prone skin. To apply it topically, try my simple probiotic face mask recipe.

4. Cures Stomach Virus/Flu
Take your probiotic every few hours. Having the stomach flu is just horrible, I’ve had it so many times as a child and get it occasionally as an adult! My mom used to say that there is nothing you can really do for it for the first several hours but wait it out. Trying probiotics is one thing you can do to try and shorten this misery! I was surprised to learn that this is one of the unusual health benefits of probiotics but, after trying it myself, it really worked. I’ve tried taking one every hour for three hours during my last mini stomach flu and I definitely think it helped me get over it faster.

If you have the stomach flu it is recommended to treat it in three phases. First, don’t eat or drink anything for three hours or more after you have thrown up. Second, when vomiting has subsided you can start sipping very small amounts of water. I usually try ice chips first at this stage of treatment. The third stage which helps you recover faster is to take a good probiotic supplement.

How do you take them? It is optimal to take one probiotic supplement every hour until your symptoms improve. After continuing with the probiotics, most people get better in less than 24 hours.

5. Depression
If you have depression it’s helpful to know that this is linked to gut problems. This is because there are neurons not only your brain but your gut. Neurons produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which is actually found in the gastrointestinal tract.

Some research has found that serotonin levels can affect mood and cause depression. Reduced levels of serotonin have also been found to have links to obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

Other health problems that have been found to be connected to gut health include autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

The gut/brain connection reinforces the importance of keeping a healthy balance and optimal amounts of good bacteria in the gut.

6. Nasal Congestion/Good for Sinuses
Your nose is another place that needs friendly bacteria. Nasal cavities contain microorganisms and a healthy balance of flora is an optimal environment. Probiotics can help your nose as research has found people with chronic sinus problems show a reduced biodiversity in their nasal passages.

Probiotics have been also been reported to help reduce your chances of developing allergies. If you have sinusitis it is often recommended to take lactobacillus acidophilus, which has been found to help fend off allergies by the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Although I don’t think you can find anywhere that sells a probiotic spray you can inhale, yet. Taking a probiotic supplement can improve your gut health and research has found that this helps your sinuses.

If you do want to try getting probiotics directly into the nasal passages you can try this remedy I came across online and either put the probiotics in a spray bottle with filtered water or add them to a neti-pot.

7. Oral Health
Since the mouth is the entryway to your gut it seems to make sense that probiotics can improve your oral health too! This is another one of the great unusual health benefits of probiotics! There is a lot of scientific research that supports probiotics can improve breath, help treat gingivitis, gum disease, and tooth decay/cavities.

Some of the research on probiotics for oral health has been done requiring subjects that eat yoghurt or special probiotic lozenges. This way the probiotics are released directly in the mouth for optimum effect.

This is why eating fermented foods may have the greatest benefit as your mouth comes in direct contact with the probiotics and they can more easily colonize the mouth.