February 12, 2017
Labels are supposed to be windows to a product and more so, the pride of workmanship. They are supposed to be promises and assurance to consumers but in the recent years, it is discovered to be hardly so.
The world of supplements is indeed a murky one, especially when it comes to label accuracy. Label lies have blighted the history of supplements – from protein powders to caffeine, from fish oils to herbal formulas, even probiotics are not spared.
A guarantee in a product’s quality is a promise that is challenging to fulfil and also often under-delivered and here’s what we have discovered:
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are often termed “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep the digestive system healthy. They are live bacteria and yeasts, with some types naturally found in the body. Probiotics can now be found in everything – from health supplements to yogurt and chocolates. As a supplement, probiotics are available as capsules, sachets, liquid and even gummies.
Probiotics are often prescribed by doctors in situations where the “good” bacteria in your body is compromised, creating an imbalance in favour of the bad bacteria. An illustration would be after a course of antibiotics, the “good” bacteria is eliminated together with the bad, and probiotics are prescribed in attempt to replace them.
“Helps to balance the “good” and “bad” bacteria, to keep your gut working like it should” is a common indication stated on probiotics supplements.
Types of Probiotics
In the realm of probiotics, there are different species. Among the different species, there are the different strains, and hence the long name ascribed to each, further confusing the consumer’s ability to choose the best among the rest. For instance, L. acidophilus and L. fermentum are strains of probiotics from the Lactobacillus Species. Strains should be specified on a product because different strains confer different health benefits and support. For e.g. L. rhamnosus is thought to be among the best Lactobacillus strains for vaginal health whereas L. reuteri has been shown to support digestive, oral, and immune health.
Check with your doctor to find out the strain/s which might best help you.
Since probiotic strains have to be specific in order to treat or promote improvement of a health concern, supplement and food labels should explicitly state as such, but can we depend on them?
Unlike drug companies, makers of probiotic supplements don’t have to show their products to be safe or that they work – the reason why quality control of probiotics is appallingly lacking:
“An average of 206% off stated label claims…”, “…unlisted… missing… unidentified species found”, “…less than half”
Reports from these studies show disquieting disparities between labels and reality, and quality control is shockingly lacking. Quality control is all the more essential for probiotics because of what it is – a delicate living organism. Its viability is challenged the moment it’s manufactured. Light, heat, oxygen and moisture are all factors that can severely shrink the number of beneficial bacteria that still has to survive shipping, processing, manufacturing, storage and final delivery.
A guarantee in a probiotic’s potency is a promise that is challenging to fulfil and also often over-promised. It has been revealed that over 50% of the brands that are tested had zero live cultures left upon purchase.
Since consumers cannot always be sure that the product actually contains the bacteria stated on the label or the product contains enough bacteria to have an effect, are there solutions?
Apart from the need to make better products, we managed to gather some tips to sieve out the good from the bad:
If you cannot find important information as such on the label, it is not hard to think the maker of the supplement cares at all.
Although taking an inferior probiotic is unlikely to cause a dangerous outcome, a lesser product will fall short of what’s expected of it, be a waste of money and add to the increasing scepticism surrounding the supplements world. The world of supplements needs better and honest products as much as the health consumer needs products of independently verified-quality.