"Can I Eat It" Probiotic Pill edition
July 17, 2017 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Received a delivery of Garden of Life's "Mood+" probiotics. They were delivered into my mailbox at 2pm (when I was not at home) and removed from my inbox when I arrived home at about 5:40pm.

I realize it's pretty unwise to order probiotics online when it's the summer, but I was taking a gamble based on past experience with the Garden of Life brand probiotics.

Anyway, it was about 88°F outside here at 2pm when these were delivered, so I can imagine it was only hotter inside the metal mailbox.

I have purchased their Once Daily Women's Probiotics in the past, had them arrive in the mailbox when it was 80-something degrees outside (only sitting there for a few hours before being taken inside), and they were fine- definitely still worked as they always do. However, these are shipped in a plastic container as opposed to glass, and the website says the plastic container is 'dessicant-lined' to ensure they arrive alive and stay alive. The bottle says that refrigeration is not required.

However, by contrast, the Mood+ ones that arrived in my mailbox today arrived in a glass bottle with a label stating they last longer if refrigerated.

Anyway, my question is- what are the chances these probiotics are totally 100% dead? I'm not sure what the internal temp of the mailbox was, but if it's anything like a car, I'm going to guess it was a lot higher than 88°F.

My understanding is that dead probiotics aren't harmful, but I don't see the point in consuming them if they're definitely dead.

I have already anticipated and considered the, "Well if they aren't harmful when dead, why not just take them and see if they still work?" responses. My answer to that is: given my concerns, for all I know at this point, I've subjected myself to some kind of placebo effect where I either psych myself into believing they aren't working or vice versa. I'd rather just know now if I should write these off as a definite loss or not.
posted by nightrecordings to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If these are bacteria that can survive in your gut, I think they can handle some pretty warm temps.
posted by advicepig at 4:51 PM on July 17, 2017

If 88F kills the probiotics how would they be useful in your body, which is 98F?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:52 PM on July 17, 2017

Hate to threadsit but just to respond: it was 88°F outside, but given that a car sitting in 88°F heat is going to have an internal temp closer to 130°F + (and growing), how hot was the inside of my mailbox for those nearly four hours? Surely there's a cutoff above 98°F where it's no longer surviveable for probiotics. That's what I'm concerned about.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think I can address the part about whether the bacteria in this product are alive or dead. I know nothing of the survivability of probiotic bacteria. However, your car analogy doesn't quite work. Your car has windows that let in visible light but then trap the reflected and re-radiated infrared light, just like a greenhouse. Unless your mailbox has a window in it, I would suspect that its temp would be slightly lower than the peak air temp that day. As others have pointed out, if they were meant to survive some amount of time in your warm tummy, then it doesn't seem like a temperature that was likely slightly lower than 88 F would kill all of them.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:18 PM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

So some of the theory about how probiotics work is that the bacteria in the pills din't what colonizes your gut per se but that your gut bacteria actually feed on the bacteria in the pills. There's multiple levels of bacteria eating feed and then bacteria eating other bacteria. So it's quite possible that it makes no difference if they're dead or alive as long as they're not cooked to the point of being chemically altered.
posted by GuyZero at 5:20 PM on July 17, 2017

You might find these articles useful: "Evaluation of Probiotic Survivability in Yogurt Exposed to Cold Chain Interruption" (Ferdousi et al. 2013) and "Comparative Survival Rates of Human-Derived Probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei and L. salivarius Strains during Heat Treatment and Spray Drying" (Gardiner et al. 2013).

There seems to be a lot of variability in how long individual bacteria strains can survive at high temps. Since the probiotics you ordered have 16 strains of bacteria, my (warning: uninformed) opinion is that many but not all of the bacteria are dead. I would take the probiotics as planned but expect to see smaller-than-typical effects.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:26 PM on July 17, 2017

I'm not sure what the internal temp of the mailbox was, but if it's anything like a car, I'm going to guess it was a lot higher than 88°F.

The interior of a car parked in the sun heats up because it works like a greenhouse: the window glass is far more transparent to incoming radiant energy in the visible light band than to outgoing radiant energy in the infrared band.

A square metre of window glass facing the sun will admit about a kilowatt of radiant energy, roughly equivalent to a small fan heater. That energy heats the surfaces inside the car that absorb it. The hot surfaces then radiate some of the resulting heat away as infrared, but the window glass reflects a lot of that straight back into the interior and absorbs most of the rest.

Parked cars are also usually pretty well sealed, preventing hot air inside them from escaping.

Neither of these things is true of a typical mailbox. Even if a mailbox is a dark colour that absorbs a fair proportion of the incident sunlight, I would not expect the temperature inside it to rise anywhere near as much above the ambient air temperature as would the interior of a car parked on the same street.
posted by flabdablet at 1:13 AM on July 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

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