Do You Need to Refrigerate Acidophilus (or Other Probiotics)?

Man looking in the refrigerator.
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Acidophilus is a type of bacteria that is naturally present in the intestines. It's one of many live microorganisms, called probiotics, that are thought to promote health and guard against illnesses like eczema, diarrhea, and urinary tract infections.

Used to make foods such as yogurt and kefir, acidophilus is found in dietary supplements. Most commonly sold in tablet, capsule, caplet, pearls, or pill form, acidophilus and other probiotics are also available in suppository, liquid, and powder form.

If you are looking for an acidophilus product, you may be aware that some products need to be refrigerated, while others are shelf-stable. Or you may have purchased a probiotic but the label doesn't indicate whether it needs refrigeration.

Further adding to the confusion, some manufacturers say that their product is shelf-stable, but still recommend refrigerating it. And does temperature even matter, since when you ingest a probiotic, it's entering a warm environment (your body)? Here's what you need to know:

Acidophilus and Most Other Probiotics Don't Like Heat

Almost all probiotics will begin to slowly die off from the time they are manufactured until they reach an environment (like your intestines) that allows them to grow. Most manufacturers factor in this loss when they set the "best by" date.

Excess heat can speed the loss of probiotic bacteria and reduce the number of live bacteria, which is why refrigeration is recommended.

Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum are particularly vulnerable to heat.

The way a product has been shipped and stored also plays a role. Products that require refrigeration should be shipped to the retailer in a temperature-controlled truck. The retailer should stock the product in a refrigerated area.

If you are ordering a product that needs refrigeration from an online retailer, it should be shipped with an ice pack.

Probiotics Also Don't Like Moisture or Humidity

Besides heat, moisture is the other factor that can reduce the number of live bacteria in your probiotic supplement. If you are in a humid environment, you may want to look for a supplement with individually packaged foil or blister packs which prevent moisture from prematurely degrading the probiotics.

Shelf-stable Probiotics

Shelf-stable acidophilus and probiotics are now available. Freeze-dried bacteria (the kind that is frequently used to make capsules, caplets, pills, pearls, and tablets) ensure that the probiotics stay viable even if they are not refrigerated. These products also have a longer shelf-life.

You would still want to avoid exposing these products to heat, but keeping them at room temperature should cause minimal loss in the number of live microorganisms.

Which One to Choose?

Some experts caution that Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and other types of probiotics are so sensitive to the manufacturing process, heat, and moisture, they should be purchased as live bacteria in the refrigerated section.

The dietary supplement testing company Consumer Lab, however, tested probiotic supplements and found that most products contained their stated number of live bacteria (with the exception of two products).

Regardless of whether a product is refrigerated or freeze-dried, you may be more likely to get a product with less degradation if you purchase from a reputable manufacturer and from a retailer that can ensure that products were not exposed to heat during the shipping or storage process.

Another way to guard against loss is to purchase a product that hasn't been sitting on store shelves for long (such as from a higher-traffic store).

If you are traveling or live in a warm and/or humid environment, look for individually foil-packed probiotics if you are choosing a shelf-stable product.

Since the number of viable bacteria degrades from the time of manufacture, purchase smaller quantities to minimize the amount of time you keep products around.

Sources:

Kailasapathy K, Chin J. Survival and therapeutic potential of probiotic organisms with reference to Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp. Immunol Cell Biol. 2000 Feb;78(1):80-8.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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