One of the most contested questions in the world of probiotics is: Do probiotics need to be refrigerated?
But before we get to that. Allow us to say – if you are just starting to use a probiotic supplement, 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 inherently fragile 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 how they are manufactured and their 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 beneficial bacteria will be dead before you (or another buyer) uses them.
Keep reading, though – most manufacturers compensate for that problem by including extra colony forming units (CFUs) in each package, more than what is listed on the label, for gut health.
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 supplement product will decrease over time, without refrigeration not just by you, the buyer, but also during transport.
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 lost bacteria 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 Saccharomyces 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.
The Probiotic Cold Chain
If you purchase refrigerated probiotics, whether they were in the fridge or not, they may have been refrigerated upon arrival, but they weren’t always kept cold for their entire lifecycle. If you choose temperature-sensitive probiotics, you need to guarantee that they were refrigerated and kept cold the entire time.
For this to happen, the raw materials of the probiotic strain would have been grown cold and then transported while cold, stored cold, and made from cold from start to finish. However, most temperature-sensitive probiotics have actually lived their lives outside of this cold chain.
A few days outside of the cold chain is perfectly fine as long as the manufacturer of the probiotic supplements you are taking has tested it as such. So, you aren’t just looking for your probiotics to be refrigerated; you also need to know if the cold chain was maintained for the duration of the lifecycle as well.
Are There Probiotics That Don’t Need to Be Refrigerated?
There are exceptions to the fragility of 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 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 stable enough probiotic 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 probiotics that thrive well along with other strains. SBO probiotics are generally symbiotic and can thrive in most probiotics communities, 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 stored at room temperature, it must have a very low moisture content.
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 focus on the hardier strains than those 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.
Are Refrigerated Probiotics Better for You?
When it comes to the efficacy of the probiotic supplement you choose, you can still take advantage of probiotic benefits, no matter which option you choose. It simply comes down to sensitivity levels when refrigeration is in question.
Some assume that refrigerated probiotics contain fewer additives; however, this is a common misconception in many cases as well.
Sometimes, refrigeration can even create a barrier. For example, if you travel a lot and take probiotic supplements, you don’t want to carry around a bottle of probiotics that may be sensitive to the heat and needs to stay refrigerated.
If this is the case, you are more likely to leave your probiotic pills behind and resume them when you return from your trip.
Overall, refrigerated probiotics aren’t necessarily superior to shelf stable probiotics. The most important consideration is choosing one of high-quality and carefully following the instructions on the label.
How to Store Your Probiotics
If you choose shelf stable probiotics, you can do a few things to make them last a bit longer while in storage.
- Keep the probiotics in the original packaging. The packaging is designed to help keep out humidity and other factors that can ultimately kill the beneficial bacteria. The packaging a manufacturer chooses is often chosen to extend the product’s shelf life.
- Always store your shelf-stable probiotics in a cool and dry place and make sure the bottle is tightly sealed to protect the healthy bacteria
- Do not store your shelf-stable probiotic pills in the medicine cabinet in your bathroom. The humidity and heat from your shower can kill the beneficial bacteria in your supplements
Here are a few goals you should keep in mind, especially considering the temperature and refrigeration of your probiotic supplements:
- Always know what probiotic strain is being used in your dietary supplement
- Determine if that particular probiotic strain is temperature-sensitive or not
- Research the cold chain of the product you choose and see if it was maintained
It can sometimes prove to be a lot of work and a lot of research to find the best probiotic supplement to support gut health and digestive health. However, with a bit of time and patience, you can find a high-quality probiotics supplement that you can store safely and ensure its efficacy.
Still have questions about using probiotics and the proper way to store your probiotics? Read on for more valuable information.
Do probiotics have to be enterically coated to be effective?
When it comes to enteric coating for probiotics, Lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and streptococcus species do not need it. They can already survive the passage through the stomach. Enteric coating is used on some probiotics to increase the number of cells that actually survive.
Why are some probiotics not refrigerated?
The probiotics that need refrigeration are those that contain probiotic bacteria still in the growth phase. They are replicating and consuming nutrients. With refrigeration, the metabolism of the bacteria slows down, and they continue to consume nutrients but do so more slowly.
Refrigerated probiotics can be left at room temperature for a few days and sometimes even several weeks without losing a great number of viable organisms. However, you still want to follow the label and refrigerate them as instructed.
How can you tell if your probiotics are alive?
To determine if your probiotics are still alive, you can try the milk test. However, we will not comment on its reliability because it is a simple at-home test, and the results may not be accurate.
For the milk test, add your probiotic supplement to at least 4 ounces of cold milk. Keep the glass of milk at room temperature for a day or two. Check the milk for any clump formations as time passes. If the milk curdles or takes on a yogurt-like consistency, it may mean the probiotics you purchased are viable.
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