Experts: Not all probiotic products the same

February 6, 2013 4:56:58 PM PST
The grocery store aisles are now filled with probiotic products, and they include everything from candy to cosmetics. They claim to aid digestion, but do they really work?

Hollis Blume and her children love chocolate.

"Every day after school, I'll give the kids a chocolate bar," Blume said.

But one chocolate bar is full of probiotics, the "good-for-you bacteria."

"They don't even know that they're eating them. It tastes like regular chocolate," Blume said.

In addition to chocolate, there's now probiotic pizza crust, coffee, snacks, coated drinking straws -- even oral care and skin care products.

"Around 30 years ago, we used to take vitamins only if we needed them. Now, we take vitamins because they help you with so many conditions. I believe that's where we are headed with probiotics," said Dr. Shekhar Challa, author of "Probiotics For Dummies."

There are literally trillions of strains of probiotics, and research shows the benefits of some go way beyond digestive health.

"We know it decreases the incidence of colds; women's health, decreased urinary tract infection; allergies, eczema, weight loss," Dr. Challa said.

But how can you tell whether a product is more hype than help?

"The FDA doesn't regulate probiotics, so probiotic supplements and probiotic foods aren't required to label the dosage or the strain of product they contain," registered dietician Erin Palinski-Wade said.

So stick with products that list the specific probiotic strains. And look for the CFUs.

"CFUs stand for colony forming units, and it's basically an estimate of the amount of viable bacteria cells in a product or supplement," Palinski-Wade said.

Make sure there are enough CFUs per serving to deliver actual health benefits.

"There is enough evidence in the literature that one needs 3 billion to 5 billion CFUs on a daily basis," Dr. Challa said.

While probiotics are generally considered safe, experts say you should avoid them if you have an immune deficiency. Also, make sure you talk with your doctor before you start taking probiotics.
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