How to Read a Probiotic Label in 6 Easy Steps
So what can you look for on a probiotic label based on the recommendation in the Quality And Safety Standards? Here's the condensed version:
- Potency Guarantee - The potency should be guaranteed until the expiration date for each species/strain listed on the label.
Guarantees based on potency at the time of manufacture are not appropriate and deceptive. Customers have no way of knowing how long ago a product was manufactured nor how many live cells have been lost overtime.
- Storage Instructions - Proper storage conditions should be listed on the label and followed during all stages of the distribution chain.
This is especially important for so called shelf-stable products. If potency is guaranteed based on proper storage and handling, then the customer needs to know how to handle and store it correctly. Incorrect directions about storage can lead to mishandling during warehousing, shipping and at the store-level. It can also result in customers leaving products in hot cars, on sunny window sills, etc. Natren takes considerable steps to ensure our probiotics survive storage, shipping and are handled correctly.
- Viable (Live) Cell Count - The minimum number of colony forming units (CFUs) per serving should be clearly stated on the label.
Measurements by weight are not scientifically valid methods of counting live bacteria and therefore can be misleading. Weight measurements include both living and dead cells this does not provide a live cell count. CFUs are the industry standard and approved scientific method for counting live bacteria cells.
- Proper Identification of Probiotic Bacteria - All microorganisms listed on the probiotic label should be identified at a minimum by both the genus and species names.
Example - Lactobacillus (genus) acidophilus (species)
Without this information you have no idea what you are taking and therefore what benefit you are getting from the product. For full transparency, Natren provides identification complete with the strain names. ex.) Lactobacillus acidophilus NAS strain
- Manufacturer Information - Any easy way to find more information about the product is provided directly on the label, often in the form of a URL for the website. Laboratory data defining the species/strains listed on the label, scientific documentation validating the use of particular species/strains should be maintained by the manufacturer and made available upon request. This level of transparency is becoming more and more important for all nutritional supplements.
- Honest and Approved Label Claims - If there are claims for specific health benefits, what are the sources of those claims?
When you hear or read about a specific benefit that sounds too good to be true ask yourself: "How do I know this product actually has this benefit? Are there scientific studies proving this benefit? What is the evidence for this claim?"
Here is how a Natren label complies with the above identified standards. Labels like this reflect a commitment to the highest quality because of commitment to transparency and consumer trust.
It is clear that many companies choose not to adhere to the standards. In reality most companies do not even manufacturer their own probiotics. Natasha's mission is to elevate the standard for probiotics so that all companies are producing products and information that can be relied upon by consumers. Consistency in the probiotic industry would go a long way to creating consumer confidence.
What is clear for consumers is that Natren is one company that adheres to this standard. Now is a golden age of nutritional science and probiotics are no exception. Learn about the benefits of probiotics by following the science. Seek the highest quality products and see what they can do for you. Never assume all products are equal and continue your exploration until you are satisfied.
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I am continually asked why I get so upset when I hear interviews on probiotics or when I see probiotic products on the shelf or advertised on the internet. I get upset because virtually all the individuals who claim to have knowledge of probiotics are ignorant of the probiotic labeling standard that was passed by the entire membership of the National Nutritional Foods Association (which is now the Natural Products Association) in 1989 and further submitted to be read into congressional record in 1995 as our industry's fiduciary promise to self-regulate.
Unfortunately, our industry chooses to ignore the promise we made to self-regulate to Congress and the American people. Industry members with varying financial interests imploded the NNFA because they tried and failed to require manufacturers to self-regulate and implement the TruLabel Program. The TruLabel Program was a fair and balanced program designed to keep manufacturers honest and to assure our health food consumer that the products sold in the industry complied with a published standard.
I am deeply concerned that no one wants to bother with standards or make proper representations to the general public. In fact, the probiotic labeling standards put the burden of proof on the actual manufacturer of the probiotic microorganisms and not just the so-called manufacturer selling the finished product.
I have devoted my life to educating the public on proper probiotic supplementation. We cannot make progress unless we actually sell consumers properly labeled probiotic products that contain the ingredients listed on the label. Is that too much to ask?
Passing these standards was no easy effort. Many members of the NNFA sat in these probiotic standards meetings for years hashing out every minute detail. Some of us even got sued for our efforts and never received so much as a simple thank you.
I ask each of you, what responsibility do we have to our industry and ourselves if we cannot be honest about the products we sell? In the 1990s, when the NNFA was ready to launch the TruLabel Program for all the members, they tested every supplement on the health food store shelf and found that 80% did not meet their label declaration. Is honesty bad for the health food industry? I leave the answer up to each and every one of you because we are ultimately responsible for virtues we embrace and live by.
Natasha Trenev - President & Founder
(Author, Researcher, and Educator)
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