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Environmental Nutrition: Probiotic prep

Kristen N. Smith, Ph.D., RDN, LD, Environmental Nutrition on

Many people are familiar with the term “probiotics” but may not actually know what they are. Probiotics are live microorganisms that exert health benefits on the host (the human) when they are ingested. These compounds are consumed regularly, since probiotics exist naturally in a wide range of foods, including yogurt, buttermilk, certain cheeses, and fermented products such as tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles. However, in some cases where a medical condition has arisen, supplemental probiotics may be recommended in addition to the diet. As always, be sure to talk with your doctor before beginning any kind of supplement.

The name game

Probiotics are identified by their genus, species and strain, such as Bifidobacterium (genus) infantis (species), 35624 (strain). Within each species, there are many different strains, which may exert several different benefits. Sometimes a combination of varying microbes that provide synergistic effects may be grouped together in the same product. For general wellness, multiple-species products are usually preferred rather than a single-strain product.

Dose it

The number of probiotics in a supplement is expressed as colony-forming units (CFU) and indicates the minimum number of live microorganisms at the expiration date. Amounts may be written on product packaging as, for example, 1 x 109 (1 billion) CFU or 1 x 1010 (10 billion CFU). Many probiotic supplements on the market contain between one and 10 billion CFU but some contain 50 billion CFU or more.


How to take probiotics

(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit

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