Probiotics are so hot right now. With sales cresting $1 billion this year in the U.S. alone--and projected to leap another 20 to 30% in 2014--there's a reason doctors are saying things like, "Probiotics are the new vitamins." Research has hinted at the beneficial bacteria's ability to assist weight loss and fend off the common cold. But while probiotics' powers are likely legit, many consumers aren't getting what they pay for, reveals a new report from ConsumerLab.com.
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Roughly a quarter of the probiotic supplements ConsumerLab.com tested contained 56% or less of the healthful organisms listed on their labels, according to the independent laboratory's results. One product contained just 16% of the probiotic bacteria advertised. "Consumers who don't do their homework with probiotics might not get what they want or think they're paying for," says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com. (Click here to find out which vitamins are worth your money--and which are just a sham.)
Probiotics are living organisms collected from strains of bacteria or yeast. There are already billions of these organisms living and working in your gut and intestines. And the theory--which multiple studies have backed up--is that by supplementing your body's bacteria with helpful probiotic strains, you can improve your digestive and intestinal health, which in turn can lead to perks ranging from strengthening your immune system to combating hormone declines after menopause. (Read the special Prevention report The Terrarium In Your Tummy to learn how your gut bacteria affect everything from your skin to how long you'll live.)
The problem, says Cooperman, is that "not every product has what it claims, and even those that do may not have the right type and amount of organisms for a specific condition." He says several of the products' tested featured marketing language stipulating that the listed amount of live bacteria was present "At time of manufacture"--a crafty hedge when you're paying for living organisms that could easily perish if not properly transported or stored, and one the FDA doesn't acknowledge.
So how can you ensure you're getting what you pay for? Offerings from manufacturers Culturelle ($23 for 30 capsules, culturelle.com) and Align ($23 for 28, amazon.com) have been shown to aid diarrhea and inflammatory bowel symptom, respectively. Both passed ConsumerLab.com's testing. The report also notes probiotic offerings from CVS, Lee Swanson, and Nature Made, among others, contain the labeled amounts of Lactobacillus, a probiotic strain shown to ward off infections and combat cold and flu.