Natasha Trenev and researcher examine health claims of various supplement labels.

(StatePoint) Purchasing probiotic supplements can be a waste of money, unless you know how to decipher the language printed on the label, say experts.

“When purchasing probiotics it’s important to not only understand the words, symbols and abbreviations being used, but also how to spot ambiguities, omissions, and deceptive language on the labels,” says probiotics industry veteran Natasha Trenev.

Often referred to as “The Mother of Probiotics,” Natasha Trenev was key to the establishment of the industry standards for labeling of probiotic supplements. For the past 34 years she has educated consumers about the health benefits of yogurt, liquid acidophilus and the importance of probiotics and beneficial bacteria.

To help consumers ensure they’re getting living, health-promoting probiotic bacteria in the supplements they’re buying, Trenev is discussing the four categories of information probiotics distributors are required to clearly display on their product label, and comments on how some distributors avoid providing that information to consumers.

1. The type and quantity of living bacteria, including minimum number of viable bacteria cells: “Many supplement labels inappropriately list the number of living organisms in each capsule as a milligram weight, which does not tell the consumer anything about the number of viable bacteria cells (colony forming units or CFUs) they are getting in that capsule,” says Trenev. “CFU is the only true scientific measure used for counting living bacteria cells. When a company reports bacterial count as a milligram weight, it’s likely they don’t want consumers to know the actual CFU count in their product because it’s quite low.”

2. A suggested expiration date or “use by” date: “Companies are required include a statement as to the minimum number of viable CFUs for each bacterial species that will be present in the supplement up to the expiration date when proper storage conditions are provided,” says Trenev. “However, most manufacturers ignore this requirement by providing a CFU count that is only effective at the time of manufacture, which is meaningless because that count will be significantly reduced by the time the consumer purchases and uses the product, typically months later.”

3. Storage requirements: “Storage requirements printed on most labels are confusing and often contradict common sense, especially the often-seen phrase ‘refrigeration is recommended but not required,’” says Trenev. “If the product is adversely affected by heat, as are virtually all probiotic cultures, then failure to control temperature at any stage in the life of the product will sacrifice the product’s potency; yet, manufacturers are willing to state refrigeration is merely optional. Why? The cost of refrigerated warehousing and shipping negatively impacts the bottom line.”

4. Additional ingredients: “If you see an ingredient on the label that you’re not familiar with, call the company or contact them through their homepage,” says Trenev.

More information about probiotics can be found at or

Probiotic supplements can be pricey. Before investing in products you expect to offer health benefits, do your research to understand exactly what you are buying.