Can Expired Probiotics Make You Sick?
Published on April 13, 2020
So far, there is no scientific evidence suggesting that expired probiotics can make you sick. However, the longer a probiotic supplement stays on the shelf, the lesser is its effectivity.
Why is that?
Also dubbed as the “good bacteria”, probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial to our body. Aside from supplements, it’s also found in the foods we eat. Once these microorganisms enter our body, it colonizes our guts and kicks out the bad bacteria.
To get the maximum health benefits of probiotics, it must reach our guts alive. Dead microorganisms won’t be able to stick to your gut walls and fight off the harmful bacteria.
The number of live microorganisms that reaches your gut also matters. Lesser live microorganisms mean lesser good bacteria present in your gut. These bacteria are like your body’s personal soldiers. When there are very few of them, the bad bacteria can easily take over and negate the effects of probiotics.
Do Probiotics Really Expire?
Probiotic manufacturers are required by law to indicate expiry dates on their products’ labels. But this does not always mean that probiotics cease to be effective after that date. (Related: How Long Does It Take For Probiotics To Work?)
Sometimes, the microorganisms in your supplement die even before the indicated date. Other times, their shelf-life extends way beyond the expiry date shown on the label. Their viability is determined by various factors.
What Affects a Probiotics’ Viability?
Most probiotic strains are microaerophilic. Meaning, they need very little amount of oxygen to grow and reproduce. Some of them can even breed with no presence of oxygen in the atmosphere.
But studies show that too much oxygen in the air can hold back the growth of microorganisms. Probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp. are especially susceptible to oxygen toxicity. These strains were originally found in the intestines of healthy humans. As such, they do not thrive in environments with a high oxygen concentration.
This is why storage conditions greatly affect a probiotic’s viability. A study conducted in Australia found that microencapsulation significantly increases probiotic viability. The airtight capsule protects the probiotics from changing levels of oxygen.
Experts also claim that probiotics in foods live much longer than those in supplements. This makes them more effective carriers of beneficial bacteria. But more studies have to be conducted to confirm this.
Before it reaches your gut, probiotics have to deal with one of its worst enemy: stomach acid.
The extreme level of acidity in our stomach helps digest the food we eat. But it also kills most of the microbes that pass within it. Unfortunately, it gets rid of the beneficial bacteria too.
By the time the probiotics reach your gut, their numbers are greatly reduced. So even if you take in millions of live probiotics, it would be futile if very few of them make it past your stomach.
One trick you can do to protect them from stomach acid is to take probiotics on an empty stomach. When your stomach has nothing to digest, it produces lesser acid.
Manufacturers also tend to coat their probiotics with either an enteric coating or alginate. These are supposed to protect the microorganisms from stomach acid. But so far, there is no conclusive proof that these are effective.
How to Know If Your Probiotics Are Still Effective
If your probiotic supplement has been sitting at the back of your fridge for a long time, there’s a simple test to know if they still work.
Mix your probiotic supplement with about 4oz. of cold milk. Leave the mixture for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature. If the milk curdles to a yogurt consistency, then your probiotics are still good.
However, this “milk test” is not always 100% conclusive. Some probiotic strains like those belonging to the genus Bifidobacterium do not cause milk to curdle. While harmful bacteria like the Streptococcus species can cause milk to curdle.
This test may not also work in probiotic tablets as well as those with enteric coatings. Remember that the microbes have to be mixed directly with the milk for it to curdle. As such, the protective coatings have to be removed first. A cold glass of milk may not be able to do that as these coatings are specifically designed to be dissolved in stomach acid. To get around this, you can crush the tablet or dilute the enteric coating in a baking soda solution with a pinch of salt before mixing it with milk.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the health benefits of probiotics and she wants to share that with the world. She also loves to write about healthy foods and other healthy living tips.