What are CFUs and why ‘Billions Aren’t Better’
By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
CFUs is a term that was developed and is used in the probiotic industry to indicate the number of LIVE bacteria in a finished product. Many people mistakenly think, when it comes to CFUs, that more is better. Occasionally we hear, “My probiotic has 20 billion cfu/dose, but Dr. Ohhira’s only has approximately 400 million cfu/dose,” implying that there probiotic must be better because it contains a much larger number of bacteria per dose.
What is a CFUs in Probiotics?
CFU is short for colony-forming unit.
When it comes to probiotics, quality is more important than quantity. Just because a probiotic product contains 20, 30 or 50 billion bacteria does not mean it is a good probiotic. When you ingest a probiotic, you are not ingesting your own bacteria, you are ingesting bacteria that (hopefully) will produce compounds (biogenics) that support the growth and proliferation of your innate bacteria. But, balance is important; too many can be too much.
Consider the immigration analogy. A country can handle a certain number of foreign immigrants. They can become good workers and good citizens. However, a massive influx of immigrants can overwhelm social services and upset society. The same is true of probiotics. If you ingest extremely high CFUs of a strain of probiotic bacteria, you immune system can metaphorically say, “Hey, we can handle some of these guys, but this is way too much.” This can initiate an immune system alarm reaction that produces negative effects. Multi-strain probiotic products with lower CFUs are likely to be more effective that extremely high CFU products with only one or several strains.
Remember, Dr. Ohhira believes that the biogenics (all of the compounds the bacteria have produced over 3 years of fermentation) is more important than the number of actual bacteria in the final product. No other probiotic in the world provides a high dose of the biogenic nutrients and other immune system-enhancing compounds that is in each dose of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics.
Previously I stated that the bacteria in the final product of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics are relatively inconsequential. I don’t want to imply that the probiotic bacteria in the final product are not beneficial. It is just that the biogenic mass of compounds produced by the probiotics during fermentation is more important in terms of promoting health than the bacteria themselves.
Also, the number of bacteria, or the CFU count in the final product varies from batch to batch. Some people criticize Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics because we can not say accurately how many bacteria are in each dose. The CFU count varies because the prebiotic food supply that is provided for each fermentation batch can vary.
The nutritional content and fiber content of foods varies from one season or one year to the next depending on rainfall, temperatures, amount of sunlight and numerous other factors. If these aspects of the bacteria’s prebiotic food supply can vary, so too will the number of bacteria in the final product. Again, let me emphasize that Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics are not SOLELY a probiotic product. Dr. Ohhira’s probiotic products contain probiotic bacteria, along with prebiotics and a concentrated therapeutic dose of the biogenic compounds, something that no other probiotic product supplies.