Encapsulating Probiotic Strains: The Technology Behind Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic strains refer to the species and strains of live bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium longum, used in probiotic supplements. These strains must remain alive in sufficient numbers to provide benefits when consumed. Encapsulation technology protects probiotic strains from destruction by stomach acid and allows delivery to the intestines. Different methods are employed depending on the type of probiotic product.

Why Do We Need Probiotics?

Here are some conditions that probiotics may help treat or improve:

Probiotics can help relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea or constipation. Probiotics may restore balance to the gut bacteria and improve gut barrier integrity in IBS.

Probiotics can help increase stool frequency and relieve constipation. Probiotics provide good bacteria to help move stool through the intestines. Studies show probiotics may help produce softer, more frequent stools and decrease straining in constipated individuals.

Probiotics can help reduce inflammation in the gut which may underlie various digestive problems. By alleviating gut inflammation, probiotics may decrease symptoms like cramping, pain, gas, diarrhea and stool changes. Reduced inflammation may also provide other health benefits over the long-term.

Probiotics can help balance the gut flora after a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with unwanted bacteria. Probiotics replace lost beneficial bacteria and help prevent secondary infections like diarrhea. They may also minimize other future gut health issues due to antibiotic use.

Probiotics can enhance the gut barrier and immunity. By promoting a healthy gut lining and balanced gut flora, probiotics may help prevent leakage of substances from the intestines into the bloodstream. A stronger gut barrier and balanced gut flora are tied to optimistic immune function.

Probiotics may play a role in fighting foodborne illness and general gut infections. By crowding out harmful bacteria and enhancing natural defenses, certain probiotic strains could help prevent issues like traveler’s diarrhea or other digestive infections and improve recovery. Effects are strain-dependent.

Probiotics are linked to positive effects on the nervous system and brain due to gut-brain connections. Probiotics could help decrease symptoms of anxiety or depression and may influence cognition and mood through gut-microbe interactions. However, more research is still needed.

While probiotics promise various digestive and general health benefits, they may not be suitable or effective in all individuals or for some underlying conditions. Probiotic strains, dosages and delivery formats must be tailored to specific health needs. Your physician should approve supplement use based on diagnosis and treatment plan for best outcomes.

Spray Drying

This involves suspending probiotic strains in a solution, often whey or cornstarch and skim milk, then spraying them into a hot chamber. The water in the droplets quickly evaporates, leaving powdered beads containing live bacteria. These beads include protective layers of proteins and carbohydrates to shield bacteria. The powder can then be used in capsules, tablet or powder supplements. Not all strains survive this process, so counts may be lower. But for stable strains, high amounts can be obtained.


This high-tech process of microencapsulation suspends probiotic strains in a liquid and then binds them to liquid droplets surrounded by a polymer coating made of vegetable materials or fats that form spheres. These microspheres are protected from moisture, heat and stomach acid but dissolve in the intestines, releasing bacteria. Alginate, starch, chitosan, and fatty acids are often used. This allows high amounts of live strains with proven delivery targeted to the gut. More fragile strains can also be protected using this method.

Enteric Coating

Probiotic capsules or tablets are coated with a protective layer using plant-based materials that resist dissolution in the stomach but break down in the intestines. Resins commonly used in enterically coated supplements include cellulose acetate phthalate, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose phthalate, and acrylic polymers. Strains are released unharmed in the gut. This method works best for hardier probiotic strains but may result in some potency loss depending on time factors. Enteric coating, however, does not protect against moisture or heat, just stomach acid.

Other Methods

Probiotic yogurt, kefir, and other foods utilize live strains to ferment milk and remain active without extra encapsulation. However, potency and strain diversity tend to be lower. Suppository forms are also used but may not allow for maintenance dosing. Newer techniques are improving stability and release profiles. But for supplements, spray drying, microencapsulation and enteric coating remain the top standard methods for delivering targeted probiotic benefits.


1. Do encapsulated probiotics lose potency over time?

Yes, all probiotics will lose potency with age, moisture and heat exposure. Potency in supplements is highest with the expiration or ‘best by’ date. Unopened probiotic capsules can remain viable for 18 months to 2 years when properly stored in a cool environment away from humidity and sunlight. Powder and opened capsules will decline more rapidly. For best results, choose a product with an expiration date and use within that time period.

2. Are microencapsulated probiotics better than enteric coated?

Microencapsulation provides more comprehensive protection and helps ensure targeted release of bacteria in the intestines. However, for hardier strains, enteric coating still provides benefits. Choose a probiotic clinically studied for the specific health benefits and strains required whenever possible. Encapsulation method is secondary to proper dosage, potency, and strains when selecting a supplement.

3. Do I need refrigerated probiotic strains?

Refrigeration can help extend probiotic viability for some products. However, it will depend on the specific strains used and encapsulation method. Spray dried beads and enteric coated capsules do not require refrigeration. Probiotic powders, yogurt starters, and supplements containing more fragile strains should be kept refrigerated to maintain potency for the duration of use according to product directions. For travel or when refrigeration is not possible, choose a shelf-stable product.

4. Are there vegan/vegetarian probiotic options?

Many probiotic supplements use only plant-based ingredients and vegetarian capsules with no animal-derived gelatin or lactose. Protein, carbohydrate, and fat materials used in encapsulation come from plant sources. However, some probiotic strains may be derived from dairy processes. Read product labels to choose a probiotic that fits your dietary needs and restrictions.

5. Which is better – more strains or higher CFU’s?

Both high amounts of colony forming units (CFU’s) which indicate live bacterial counts, and multiple targeted strains are important for probiotic efficacy. Higher CFU’s, at least 10 to 15 billion per capsule, are best for most conditions. And a diversity of strains from Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and possibly Saccharomyces families provide the broadest benefits. Choose a product with specific strains for your health needs and the highest viable counts possible for maximum effects.

In summary, encapsulation technology allows probiotic supplements to deliver live strains with health benefits intact. Methods such as spray drying, microencapsulation and enteric coating help shield bacteria from stomach acid so they can be released in the intestines. For the most effective product, look for both ample amounts of targeted strains and high, guaranteed CFU counts achieved through proper encapsulation for your desired use. Shelf-stable or refrigerated, capsules or powders, one method or another can provide quality probiotic supplementation.




Probiotics – Your Daily Supplement for Gut Health

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