Is a probiotic better if it has a higher CFU?
Probiotics are defined as “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host”1
However, the specific amount needed to confer a health benefit is not mentioned. This is because the effective dose of probiotics is influenced by a multitude of variables, including health endpoint, the specific probiotic used, delivery vehicle and route of administration2. These factors make it difficult to generalize one optimal dose for probiotic effects.
Therefore, each optimal dose varies between probiotics, their composition, therapeutic effects and administration mode.
Colony-forming units (CFU), is a term used in microbiology to estimate the number of viable (or alive) bacteria found in a sample.
Currently, there is a growing tendency to overdose probiotic products, with doses allegedly ranging from 1 billion to 50 billion CFU several days per week. The number of billions, or even trillions of CFU found in a specific product is frequently used as a promotional asset.
For instance, clinical trials with specific strains have shown a saturation effect, without differences between high and low dose groups in terms of efficacy3. For this reason, although there is no evidence that higher dosages are unsafe, overdosing is more expensive and unnecessary.
To know if a specific probiotic will have the effects claimed on the package, instead of focusing on CFU, try looking for the following (as states the World Health Organisation)4:
(For more information, check this article)
Multi-strain probiotics are quite common products found in the health supplements market, gaining popularity every day.
Some claim that, the more strains found in a probiotic, the broader is its efficacy, thanks to the possible synergies among strains. The reality is that no convincing evidence has been found to support these assumptions, as shown in a recent study5.
Although it is true that certain mixtures of probiotics are more effective than their component strains, this observation cannot be generalized.
The effectiveness of the product is not determined additively by the number of strains added, but by the synergistic mixture of key strains. Most importantly, the effectiveness and benefits of the mixture need to be tested in a validated clinical trial6. Two key biological factors help explain this behavior:
Moreover, this issue becomes even more pressing when some strains are added merely to increase the CFU count and have no documented benefit for the host.