How to Make GREAT Probiotics

In order to make great probiotics, you have to do EVERYTHING right.

It’s easy to think about probiotic supplements like other supplements, but they are unique in that to provide benefits, they must be alive. At any point in the process, the bacteria can be killed, so it takes a combination of science and know-how to make sure everything works.

The process starts with selecting the strains for the formula. As a starting point, the strains must be tough and resilient to withstand the rigors of manufacturing, distribution and storage. Many potential probiotic strains are so fragile that they would not withstand the processes necessary to get to the blending stage.  Others that can get through manufacturing may die within three to six months on the shelf, even in the best conditions.

Starting with inherently tough probiotics then requires screening for resistance to conditions in the digestive process: stomach acid and bile sensitivity. Strains that can stand up to one hour of exposure are further tested for their ability to adhere to cells that line the digestive tract, which can translate to colonizing.  Ideally, the probiotics have been used successfully in at least one clinical study. But, even short of clinical studies, in vitro testing can be used to identify characteristics that make good probiotics. 

Once the strains are selected, the final formula can be created and tested again to make sure the individual strains are compatible.  And this is the easy part.  Manufacturing probiotics takes special conditions in which temperature and humidity are tightly controlled. Once the probiotics are freeze dried and concentrated into a powder, they are in a special state where they are alive, but are not undergoing extensive metabolism. As soon as probiotics are exposed to moisture, they start living again and producing the byproducts of life that are also potentially toxic to the organisms. So, controlling the conditions in the manufacturing plant and in the capsule is critical to making viable organisms that can be stored for a long period of time. All of these processes take a great deal of knowledge and know-how. 

Finally, testing is a key part of the process. Probiotics must be tested at each step of the process for viability, potency and contaminants, and samples must be evaluated under a range of storage conditions for the entire length of the recommended storage period. The development of a quality assurance process that meets tough standards is a critical part of the process. 

Packaging and storage to maintain the ideal conditions—low moisture, low oxygen and cool to moderate temperature—help to ensure that probiotics are going to provide health benefits through their entire shelf-life.

Anything that goes wrong at even one step of the process means the probiotics have a good chance of not doing what they were supposed to do for the final consumer.  So, in order to make great probiotics, you have to do everything right.

Connie Falkenstein is a brand manager for UAS LifeSciences.

Posted on WholeFoods Magazine, 3/17/14