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Probiotic tablets -- how can bacteria be dried?
June 11, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Probiotic vitamin tablets: How can bacteria be made into a tablet? Aren't they alive? How can they be dried?

My vitamin tablets have a layer in them that's probiotic bacteria for my gut. The packaging says this is a wonderful thing because they don't need to be stored at a certain temperature, and they've got a shelf life until 2010. But aren't bacteria living organisms? How can they be dried?
posted by humblepigeon to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your product might be BS, I don't know.

But many simple organisms can have their life essentially suspended and brought back to life. Yeast comes to mind. A quick search on the web shows several patents and papers about drying and restoring bacteria.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:08 AM on June 11, 2008


See also: Sea Monkeys!

Though I'm not sure how effective those pro-biotic vitamins are...
posted by Grither at 8:12 AM on June 11, 2008


Sea Monkeys are brine shrimp, not bacteria.
posted by nomisxid at 8:27 AM on June 11, 2008


The little buggers are either spray or freeze-dried and they are not exactly alive here. Think more like suspended animation. They will wake up and probably be merry once they are in your gut.
posted by uandt at 8:30 AM on June 11, 2008


Some microorganisms can be pelletized. Just check out compost accelerators or septic tank digesters. Basically, if the stuff is real, it's like flush-it for your guts.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:43 AM on June 11, 2008


Many kinds of bacteria form spores when under environmental stress (drying out etc.). Spores are notoriously hard to kill.
posted by phliar at 8:52 AM on June 11, 2008


uandt and phliar are correct, lots of microorganisms have what is essentially a "suspended animation" form that allow them to remain viable in a dried state. Consider dried live yeast cultures such as you'd purchase to make bread or beer.

The principle of probiotics is that they contain the same beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in your gut, which help you digest your food, and possibly outcompete harmful organisms that also occur. The idea is that these supplements will help build and maintain these beneficial colonies, thus improving the health of your internal ecosystem. That these organisms occur naturally and are essential to a healthy digestive system is an established medical fact.

There are reasonable questions and not terribly much data on the actual benefits of probiotics. It's not pure claptrap but I think there is a lot of hype. Claims are sometimes made for probiotics in the natural/nutritional/alternative health arena that are not supported by research. Fairly conservative discussion with lots of references on the topic here.
posted by nanojath at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


They're also called cysts. Take a look at the wikipedia link.
posted by pwb503 at 11:42 AM on June 11, 2008


I have seen some brands of probiotics that say refridgerate after opening, while some don't. So yeah, good question.
posted by Big_B at 1:01 PM on June 11, 2008


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