Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Plentiful Probiotics

10,000,000,000. 5,280. 93,280,000.

Which one of those numbers is wrong? You can't tell, of course. Without context, there is no possible way to know if a number is wrong or right, whether it's big or small, whether it's meaningful or totally out to lunch.

You can tele rihgt awaay wenn wordsd our missspellled, but numbers require knowledge and analysis. That's makes them perfect for scamming people.

Probiotic numbers work this scam every day. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, meant to colonize your intestines and work their magic on your systems. Just the concept of that allows the pushers enough leeway to back trucks up to the bank though because nobody really knows enough about any specific bacteria and your specific system to know which varieties are truly the best. All of them are, if you read their claims.

And the looseness of their numbers gives them even more wriggle room. For most people a million is as big a number as they can comprehend. A billion is something the government talks about but is too big to wrap a brain around. So any product that claims to have a billion of anything sounds like a huge enormous lot of something.

It isn't. Not when we're talking about something as small as bacteria. Estimates are that you have 10,000-100,000 billion in your intestines right now. (See The microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, by William Shaw Ph.D.)

How big is 100,000 billion? There are just about 100,000 billion inches between you and Uranus. Really. (The universe makes this stuff up, folks. I just write it down.)

Now it's true that you don't need to swallow 100,000 billion bacteria at once to make a difference in your system. You couldn't if you wanted to. But you do need a sizable quantity to make it worthwhile for you to spend your money on a probiotic capsule. The bacteria should grow in number once they're in your colon, but if they don't have a sufficient number to start out with, they'll get overwhelmed.

How much is enough? A billion in a capsule is the minimum recommended. In fact, did a rating of two dozen probiotic products and simply eliminated any that contained fewer than a billion per capsule (or, technically, in the Maximum Suggested Daily Serving, which may have been more than one capsule).

The results of that rating is hidden behind their subscription wall. Fortunately, gave three of the best scorers.

Culturelle with Lactobacillus GG ($16.99)
Enzymatic Therapy Acidophilus Pearls ($29.96)
Kal Acidophilus ProBiotic-5 ($7.85)

This is not an endorsement of any of these products. Just a reminder: whenever a product is advertising itself by its numbers, check and doublecheck what those numbers really mean. Don't get fooled by size alone.

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