Do Probiotics Need to Be Refrigerated? Everything You Need to Know

do probiotics need to be refrigerated

One of the most contested questions in the world of probiotics is simply: Do probiotics need to be refrigerated?

But before we get to that. Allow us to say – if you are just starting to use probiotics, that’s great! You’ve taken a step in the right direction for overall better health with the help of an army of good bacteria.

Learn more about whether the strains you purchase need to be refrigerated or not in this article, before you invest in quality probiotics without knowing how to properly store them.

Many probiotics require refrigeration, before and after they have been purchased. Most people who have purchased probiotics realize that refrigeration will increase a probiotic’s shelf life. But not all probiotics need refrigeration.

Do Probiotics Need to Be Refrigerated?

If you want the simplest answer to this question, it would be “Yes.” Most commercial probiotic strains are fragile inherently and have to be protected from exposure to excess heat.

In fact, they are often dying slowly from their production until you use them. They need an environment, like your intestines provide, that will nurture their growth.

The very moment most bacteria are produced, they begin a dying process. Their life may be shortened by the way in which they are manufactured, and exposure to moisture or heat.

It may amaze and dishearten you to know that the most common probiotics used are so fragile that the manufacturers assume that anywhere up to 90% of these bacteria will be dead before you (or another buyer) uses them.

Keep reading, though – most manufacturers do compensate for that problem by including extra colony forming units (CFUs) in each package, more than what is listed on the label.

How to Properly Store Probiotics

Improper probiotics storage is crucial because it is a major factor that leads to bacteria loss. The number of CFUs in a probiotic product will decrease over time, without refrigeration not just by you, the buyer, but also during transportation.

Manufacturers factor in this decrease when they label the probiotic with a “best if used by” date. They produce their probiotics with an overage of extra CFUs, so that you will receive what the package label indicates.

If you buy a probiotic and the label says it contains 10 billion CFUs, it was probably packaged with 15 billion or more CFUs, to make up for the bacteria that are lost before the product is consumed.

Which Strains of Probiotics Require Refrigeration?

Some of the most commonly used probiotics are actually too fragile to survive manufacturing, transportation and storage. They are:

  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • B. longum
  • B. adolescentis
  • B. breve
  • Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • L. casei

This list contains probiotic species known as “Lactic-Acid Based Bacteria” (LAB) probiotics, except for Saccaromyces boulardii. Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are the most common LAB species used. If you buy a probiotic with the initial “B.” or “L.”, it will be quite fragile unless protected.

Common elements like light, moisture, heat and light affect the stability of all Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains of probiotics. If they are not protected, they will not be able to reach your small intestine, where their beneficial work should be done.

Are There Probiotics That Don’t Need to Be Refrigerated?

There are exceptions to the fragility in probiotics in some newer “soil-based organism” (SBO) products. An example is Bacillus subtilis. Its structure is similar to that of seeds.

SBO probiotics do not need refrigeration because they are based on microorganisms that are found naturally in the healthy, earth-based microbiome. These have been linked to developing your own human healthy microbiome.

Protective shells of SBO probiotics protect the cell core until you “plant the seed” by taking the probiotic. The shell insulates these bacteria from heat and other environmental hazards, and also the manufacturing process itself.

Other Stable Probiotic Solutions

When you want a probiotic that is stable enough to be stored on the shelf, you need to understand the solutions manufacturers use to bypass or overcome their products’ need for refrigeration.

Symbiotic Probiotic Formulations

One approach used is the selection of strains of probiotic that thrive well along with other strains. SBO probiotics are generally symbiotic and have the ability to thrive in most communities of probiotics, including the strains that may threaten more conventional bacteria like ssp. Bulgaricus and L. delbrueckii.

Freeze-Dried Probiotics

Some manufacturers utilize freeze-drying or deep-freezing to protect the viability of their probiotics. This involves tight control of their water content. For the popular L. acidophilus strain to experience a maximum survival rate when being stored at room temperature, it must have a very low content of moisture.

Freeze-dried probiotics must be protected from any exposure to moisture in transit, storage and after purchase, because moisture would immediately begin the product’s degradation. If freeze-dried probiotics are exposed to excess humidity or actual moisture, they will lose viability as time passes, possibly before you even open the product.

New developments in the formulation of probiotics focuses on the strains that are hardier than the ones normally found in probiotics products. These newer probiotic bacteria are spore-forming probiotics, which can survive well without moisture protection or refrigeration. They include Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes.

Always read the instructions on the probiotic purchases you make. It may be easier to store them in the refrigerator, just to be on the safe side, even if the label does not indicate that it needs refrigeration.

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