What Are CFUs, And Why Are They Important?

What Are CFUs, And Why Are They Important?

If you’ve used probiotics before, you may have noticed that the package lists how many CFUs are in each dose. What is a CFU, and why is the number important?

CFU stands for “colony forming unit.” A CFU is a living, active bacterium that is capable of dividing and growing to form new colonies. That’s exactly what you want. Good bacteria not only crowds out unwanted strains, but it also has numerous health benefits.

You’ll find non-prescription probiotics with CFU potencies anywhere from 500 million to 100 billion. Even more potent ones, with counts of up to 300 billion CFU, are available by prescription.

To put those numbers into perspective, keep in mind that your body is host to approximately 100 trillion bacteria. Most of them are working for your benefit. Taken collectively, the bacteria in your intestines would weigh about 3 pounds.

Are CFUs The Most Important Thing To Look For In A Probiotic?

More is not always better. When choosing a probiotic, CFUs are not the most important thing to look for. Rather, choose a probiotic strain or combination of strains that are shown to address your health goals. Common probiotics include the Lactobacillus genus, the Bifidobacteria genus, and the Bacillus genus. Within these types are many species and subspecies, and they don’t act the same. For instance, over 100 different species of Lactobacillus have been identified to date and they each function differently in the body.

One caution: beware of probiotics that have lower CFUs but contain a lot of different strains. It’s possible you may not get enough potency with any given strain to make a difference.

How To Choose The Right Potency

When are higher potencies appropriate, and when are lower ones best? Probiotic formulas with higher CFUs typically carry a higher price tag. But many high potency formulas don’t have the clinical science to back them up. Why pay more if you don’t need it?

The right potency is one that has solid scientific research behind it. For best results, choose a both strain (or strains) and a potency that matches what was used in clinical studies.

For best results, consistency is key. Many probiotics take at least a week to start colonizing your gut effectively. To continue to enjoy the health benefits once they start working, you’ll want to include them as a part of your daily routine.

Probiotics and Lifestyle

Lifestyle factors also have an influence on the effectiveness of probiotics. Probiotics need prebiotics, found in soluble fiber, to flourish. If you aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet (25 to 35 grams daily is the recommended amount), then consider taking a prebiotic supplement along with your probiotic. Processed foods, medications, and chlorinated water can also inhibit the growth of healthy gut flora. Take these factors into consideration when choosing your probiotic strength.

Research continues to evolve on probiotics, especially which strains deliver particular health benefits. Only after identifying the right strain or combination for your health goal should you consider CFUs. If you don’t have the right strain, the CFUs won’t matter.


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