“One, two buckle my shoe
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Or, more to the point, how many angels can stand on a needle’s tip?* I don’t recall if I first encountered this taunt disguised as a question in theology class or philosophy class. It may well have shown up in both. How many angels? Doesn’t the question beg an answer, some discrete number, some particular positive integer?
Unfortunately, when discussing the “number” of CFUs (colony forming units) in a probiotic supplement we are treading on similar speculative turf. The fact is that bacteria don’t lend themselves to easy enumeration. Even harder, still, is determining if they are dead or alive when counted. In Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis’ excellent book, Teaming with Microbes**, they write in the chapter on bacteria, “Yet no other organism has more members in the soil, not even close. In part this is because these single-celled organisms are so miniscule that anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 of them can fit inside the period at the end of this sentence.” Here we have bacteria dancing just like angels on the head of a pin and nearly as difficult to count.
In fact, the number of bugs in a period is an estimation based on this or that criterion which is why it can vary so dramatically. About the only time you see numbers that far apart is during a partisan budget debate on Capitol Hill or in discussions of space and time. To make matters worse, if you were to count the same dot, period, pin head immediately following your tally the number would have changed! Dramatically!
Yet, as slippery as these numbers are when talking about probiotic bacteria in our guts they are very important, indeed. Not enough bugs and you’re likely to get ill; fewer still and you’re likely to starve; fewer still and you’re dead. So, we need enough good bacteria in our bodies, in our bellies, just to keep us alive! But how many is enough? Remember Lowenfels and Lewis? How many “.” can you swallow?
When we talk about the number of bacteria in our bodies at any one time we have to talk in the hundreds of trillions, give or take a couple of billion. The numbers are staggering. The bacteria that lives in and on us is greater than the number of cells we have by at least a factor of ten. Of course, who’s counting? But science has developed reliable techniques that make these numbers manifest.
This is important when a consumer purchases a probiotic supplement. What the consumer wants is a product that will provide enough live bacteria to be beneficial as part of a health regimen. It really doesn’t matter if you put billions of CFUs into the bottle if they are already collapsing colonies before they’re out the door. Nor is if helpful it there aren’t enough bugs to begin with. It is felt that a person needs at least a billion live, viable CFUs of proven probiotic strains per day to provide a therapeutic dose. That’s what we set out to do at Vidazorb® and that’s what we accomplished after seven years of research and development. We keep Zorbee and his friends and family alive so that they can help the consumer lead a happy and healthy life. Because, after all, you are what you absorb.
Now, where was I? Ah, eight hundred sixty-seven thousand and fifty-one, eight hundred sixty-seven thousand and fifty-two . . .
**Teaming With Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis Timber Press ©2006 (p. 43)