Despite the recent influx of probiotic containing foods in Canada, there are no solid regulations set in place. Similarly in the U.S., probiotics do not require FDA approval before going to market but rather, the responsibility lies on the manufacturer to ensure the quality and safety of their products. This lack of validity can lead to inaccurate or misleading claims on probiotic supplements.
Probiotics are classified as Natural Health Products in Canada, which explains the tighter regulations, however, the majority of these regulations focus on claim substantiation rather than safety. , Keep in mind that there are finished products in today’s market with ingredients sourced from other countries where regulations vary. The relaxed regulations on dietary supplements can jeopardize both the safety and quality of probiotics and become a major concern.
Among probiotic supplements, there are two major inconsistencies:
1. the quantity of live microorganisms
2. the purity of the microorganism strains
With one driving purpose to increase the amount of bacteria in the gut, it’s essential that the supplement contains enough live cultures for the bacteria to make it to gut and colonize the intestines. While each strain has a certain dose in order to be effective, most supplements contain between 1 billion and 10 billion live organisms. With manufacturing inconsistencies, certain products may contain fewer live organisms than intended, leaving the product with little to no health benefits.
On the flip side, it’s possible for a supplement to contain too many live organisms which can cause negative health effects. Balance is key and being able to trust the dosage of a probiotic is key for both the effectiveness and the safety of the product.
Poor production practices can result in product contents different from what's listed on the label. Each strain has a unique effect on the human body and consuming an unknown strain could have negative health consequences for some individuals. To date, there are only a couple bacterial strains that have been significantly researched and tested for safety, primarily lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. In a rapidly growing field, there’s definitely a demand for research on the less studied strains which may have unclear effects.
The Bottom Line
As it’s challenging to reach the daily recommended intake of 1 billion to 10 billion CFU in food alone, we naturally turn to supplements. However, no matter where you purchase your probiotics, current regulations are inadequate to protect consumers. The lack of transparency in today’s market makes it difficult to be confident about the quality and safety of probiotic supplements,. You may end up paying for something that has no health benefit or may even be harmful to your body.
The good news is that there are many companies that produce quality probiotic supplements which might just be that boost that your health routine has needed. Make it easy for yourself, look for brands that have been third-party certified so that you can be confident that any claims made about the product are accurate and that they product is safe to consume.