Should all probiotics be kept in the refrigerator? I’ve always thought they should be until I realized that some labels stated no refrigeration necessary. My curiosity piqued, I went on the hunt to find out more about whether or not this dietary supplement should be refrigerated.
Your gut microbiome affects your health, so keeping the harmful and good bacteria balanced has many health benefits. The benefits of probiotics are many, helping to boost your immune system, relieve anxiety, improve digestion, and other health conditions.
Why Should Probiotics Be Refrigerated?
Probiotics are live organisms, and the majority of commercially available probiotic strains are fragile and must be refrigerated to protect them from heat. But, there are several strains, the newer soil-based organism (SBO) probiotics, Bacillus probiotics, and other hardier strains.
Most probiotics slowly die off until they reach an environment, such as your gut microbiome, that helps them grow. This dying off begins the moment the bacteria are produced and can happen faster if they are exposed to heat and moisture.
Storing probiotics improperly is a significant factor in causing bacteria die-off. Manufacturers take this into account when they set the expiration date. When a label states 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs), often, the original amount was 15 billion CFUs or more. Manufacturers often add more due to the large number of bacteria that will no longer be viable once the product is used.
The most commonly used probiotic bacteria are extraordinarily fragile. They require close supervision during production, delivery, and storage so that enough of them will be live bacteria when they reach the consumer. Commonly used probiotic bacteria include:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Each of these requires complex engineering to preserve the bacteria’s viability and activity.
Common Elements That Take a Toll on Probiotics
Probiotics have a rough road when it comes to making the journey from the manufacturer to your digestive tract. Common conditions such as moisture, heat, light, and oxygen affect the viability of all strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria. If they do not survive these conditions and remain in optimal ambient temperatures at critical times, you will not get their full benefit.
When to Refrigerate Probiotics
Some probiotics may state on the packaging to store them in the refrigerator directly after purchasing. Others may say to refrigerate after opening. This is because humidity can cause them to “wake up” prematurely and undo the preservation process used.
The packaging and capsules can keep moisture out but are not entirely airtight. Refrigeration helps preserve the probiotics by slowing down degradation and metabolic processes so they can grow in your gut, giving you all their benefits.
Some production techniques help ensure the effectiveness of probiotics without refrigeration. While refrigeration will improve the effectiveness of all probiotics, these methods can ensure probiotic stability.
Freeze-Dried vs. Spray-Dried Probiotics
Probiotics can be produced by freeze-drying or spray-drying, processes that remove moisture as well as preserve them. Freeze-drying, also called lyophilization, works by freezing the probiotics and removing the moisture under vacuum. Spray-drying uses a higher temperature and greater moisture extremes in the preservation process.
Another process for preserving probiotics is micro-encapsulation. This is very much like what it sounds like, the probiotics are surrounded, or encapsulated, with various materials that make a protective shell or scaffolding for them to grow on. This improves their viability when freeze-dried and stored at room temperature.
With co-encapsulation, the prebiotics are used to encapsulate the probiotics. Scientists have found that co-encapsulating with prebiotics—fiber that feeds probiotics—increases their survival.
Probiotics That Never Need Refrigeration
Then there are some probiotics that do not need to be refrigerated because they are more resilient than others.
- Saccharomyces boulardii – this is a probiotic yeast that can survive at room temperature when freeze-dried.
- Bacillus coagulans – this probiotic forms hardy spores that can remain dormant under conditions and temperatures until they reach your gut.
- Bacillus subtilis – this is also a spore-forming probiotic that can withstand extreme conditions.
So, these shelf-stable probiotic strains should be included when these newer manufacturing techniques are used.