What do Probiotic CFUs and Strains Actually Mean? Here’s Your Explainer


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If you’ve taken a stroll down the probiotics aisle at your local pharmacy, you’ve probably been bombarded with an overload of numbers and various acronyms for which the only appropriate response is, “Huh??”

But understanding the specific benefits of probiotics is vital to your friendship with your gut—so where do you start? “Not all probiotics are made equal,” Maggie Johnle, manager of innovation at Renew Life says. “Look for a diverse group of scientifically studied strains that you can easily take each day.”

Still, it’s important to understand terms like “strains” and “CFUs” when they keep popping up on every bottle. So to help decode the wonderful world of probiotics for you, we asked Johnle to break things down. 

Keep scrolling to find out more about the benefits of probiotics and what CFUs and strains actually mean—and why they’re important when you’re probiotic shopping. 


probiotics benefits

1. So, what’s a CFU anyway?

*CFU* not UFO (they look similar though, so we get it). CFU stands for colony forming unit—but is often used interchangeably with cultures or culture count. “CFU or culture count is quite literally the number of microorganisms, encompassing all types, or strains,” Johnle says.

And by “microorganisms,” we’re talking about the good-for-you bacteria that probiotics provide. Johnle suggests that adults look for at least 10 billion culture of CFU per serving in a probiotic, and recommends children start at around 1 billion and work their way up.

That’s because the more CFUs you get, the more iron-clad your gut support, according to Johnle. “Why take supplements at all if they’re not working hard to fill in your nutritional gaps?” she adds. “Make your supplements work harder and better for you and support your best possible overall health.”


probiotics benefits

2. And what about a strain?

Strains are the unique classifications of microorganisms—each with various attributes and qualities. Johnle describes probiotic strains as different members of the same family. “Much like our family members have the same last name, we all have different first names, special qualities, and identities,” she says.

While this may sound confusing, just remember that strains are just like your family back home. There’s your aunt who’s a cooking genius, and then there’s your little brother—who shouldn’t be allowed to hold a spatula, but can deliver a killer joke. Depending on the scenario you’re in, you may want different traits in different moments—so the more strains you have at your disposal, the greater the chance your body is getting what it needs.


probiotics benefits

3. CFUs and strains are not the same thing, but are equally important

Some people erroneously believe that CFUs and strains are the same or believe that you only need to look out for one or the other,” says Johnle. “The truth is that both matter. Both diversity of strains and a high culture count make for the best level of probiotic support.” 

By opting for one or the other, you’re missing out on the full spectrum of benefits. Renew Life probiotics strike the right balance with three times more good bacteria and more strains to improve your digestion. “We use multiple, clinically studied strains that are tested for their compatibility, stability, and efficacy in humans,” Johnle says.  “And all of our formulas are guaranteed to provide the number of cultures claimed on the label until the expiration date.”

It’s official: You can stop guessing what’s in your probiotics and hoping your body doesn’t notice. Next time you’re probiotic shopping, you (and your gut) will know just what to do.

In partnership with Renew Life

Top Photo: Westend61/Getty

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