Is a higher CFU count better? It’s a scam

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Most people are confused when they read phrases such as 1 billion CFUs, 5 billion CFUs, etc. printed on the probiotic labels. Our brain automatically assumes that the one with a higher figure is better for us as we associate higher numbers with better quality on a subconscious level.

Probiotics are usually taken for improving the balance of good bacteria in our gut, as bacteria found in the human gastrointestinal tract play a crucial role in the digestion process and are also necessary for immunity against diseases (1). In this article, we will discuss if a higher CFU count better or not in a probiotic.

What is a CFU Count?

CFU is an acronym for colony-forming units, which can be understood as the number of bacteria present in a single capsule or tablet. A CFU count gives you an idea of the viable bacteria contained in a single dose. Although the figures of 1 billion CFUs or 10 billion CFUs may seem quite large to someone who is not aware of biology, these are trivial if we consider the fact that trillions of bacteria live within our gut and on the human body (2).

Most of these bacteria play an essential role in our biological processes, such as digestion, and even a slight imbalance can wreak havoc on our health. People usually assume that all bacteria are harmful to humans. Still, nothing can be farther from the truth as several bacteria are essential for keeping us healthy as, in the absence of these, our body would have problems performing some crucial biological functions (3).

Is a Higher CFU count Probiotic better than the one with a lower CFU count?

Most people confuse a higher CFU count with better quality and naively assume that a probiotic with 50 billion CFUs is much better than the one with 5 or 20 billion CFUs. Most probiotic products have between 5 to 20 billion CFUs per dose, and the ones with 50 billion CFUs are considered the strongest ones due to their high CFU count.

If you are taking probiotics for maintaining the balance of good bacteria in your gut, then a regular probiotic with a lower CFU count is perfectly ideal for you. Probiotics with high CFU count are only used by people who are suffering from specific ailments such as constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, etc. and are not recommended for healthy people (4). 

They often cause severe side effects in healthy people such as stomach cramps, pain, etc. and very few people would recommend high CFU probiotics to a person who has never tried any probiotic before. So, we can say that the choice of a probiotic largely depends on your individual goals as for most people, probiotics in the 5 to 15 billion CFU range are a good choice (5). 

If you are suffering from specific ailments or health issues and want to help your condition with the help of probiotics, then you may go for a probiotic with a higher CFU count as they tend to be more useful for treating specific health conditions. Probiotics in the 15-45 billion CFU range are the right choice in such a scenario. 

Probiotic companies are also known for using high CFU count as a marketing tactic as most first-time customers believe that the higher CFU count is an indicator of the quality of the probiotic. Companies are aware of this and sometimes use the high CFU count to mislead uninformed consumers.

Conclusion

Higher CFU count = Better Quality is the most enduring myth about probiotics, and still, a considerable number of people believe in it. Probiotics with high CFU count may be better than the ones with low CFU count in some cases, but the vast majority of people don’t need them. Probiotics in the 5 to 15 billion CFU count are ideal for use as daily health supplements, and one can use them for the long term also without worrying about any severe side effects.

Probiotics like Ora Organic with high CFU count, on the other hand, are only recommended if the person is suffering from a health issue, and they are used more like medicines than dietary supplements. It would be best if you also kept in mind that most often, probiotics with high CFU count are much more expensive than the ones with low CFU count, and a person is essentially paying more for the extra CFUs, which he doesn’t even need in the first place. So, assess your situation before buying a probiotic and go for the one with high CFU count only if you need it.

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