Probiotics: Do They Need Refrigeration?
Did you know that NOT all probiotics require refrigeration?
There is still a lot of confusion over the matter of whether all probiotics need to be stored at a specific temperature. The problem arises from a common misconception that probiotics were sold and packaged in a manner that demanded refrigeration for maximum freshness and effectiveness. So, what changed? Why are some probiotics no longer required to be refrigerated?
That’s a brilliant question, but first, let’s talk about the life cycle of bacteria to put it into context.
The life cycle of probiotic bacteria
- Lag phase: Bacteria develop and grow, but are not yet able to divide. They adjust to their environment in this phase.
- Growth phase: During this phase, bacteria use nutrients to multiply and rebuild metabolic waste. They are sensitive to negative conditions, which is also an important point.
- Static phase: This bacterial phase begins when growth rates are equal to death rates. It occurs when nutrients needed for reproduction are exhausted, or when waste generated from replication turns to waste.
- Death phase: Growth stops. Bacteria start to die.
Whether or not probiotics need to be refrigerated depends on the strains used. Moisture, heat, and light can greatly impact their rate of survival. Most of them die off the moment there are manufactured.
Probiotics are delicate and they have to remain viable. The only way to do this is to refrigerate them. If they fall outside the range of acceptable temperature, they degrade faster. And by the time you get them, there’d be nothing left to help your gut. This is why certain probiotic supplements require refrigeration.
Probiotic supplements that require refrigeration contains bacteria that are in the growth phase. These bacteria already replicate and consume nutrients, but refrigeration slows down their metabolism, so they consume nutrients more slowly. This prolongs the shelf life of the supplement. Without refrigeration, heat and moisture can activate them. Bacteria progress into the growth phase at a much faster rate. Eventually, they will die because of a lack of nutrients and a proper environment in a matter of days or weeks.
However, not all species require refrigeration. Probiotic supplements that do not require refrigeration are in the lag phase. They can adapt to the acidic environment of the stomach as they make their way down the intestine. Supplements which contain bacteria in the lag phase have much better survival rates than their refrigerated counterpart.
Freeze-dried probiotic supplements and in packaging that protects against moisture, such as blister packs, do not need to be refrigerated. They are shelf-stable, and they have significantly longer shelf-lives than those with live cultures. Still, it should not expose to direct heat. Free-dried probiotic supplements have longer shelf life than those products containing live cultures like drinks and yogurt. Probiotic yeast and some spore-forming bacteria like Bacillus coagulans do not require refrigeration.
When buying probiotic supplements, be sure to read the label. If you buy probiotic supplements with a label that suggests refrigeration, be sure to refrigerate them.