7 Common Probiotic Myths & What I Take

Heather Dessinger

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Pile of probiotic capsules

Have you ever stood in the aisle of a health food store and considered the eeny-meeny miny moe approach to choosing a probiotic? 

It’s no secret that they have profound health benefits, but there are a lot of myths that can make finding a good one downright confusing.

In this article we’ll look at the top seven misconceptions, what the research actually says, and what to look for in a probiotic.

Before we dive into the details, though, I want to mention that none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. As always, please talk with your healthcare provider about any supplements you are considering. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the myths.

Myth #1: Strain Specificity Doesn’t Matter ^

Flip a probiotic supplement over to look at the label, and you’ll often see “lactobacillus rhamnosus, “bifidobacterium bifidum,” or something similar. Both of those examples tells you the genus and species, but not the specific strain . . . and that’s important, because strain absolutely matters. 

To understand why, let’s take a look at E. coli: 

  • E. coli 0157: NH can cause serious illness and is the reason for many of the food recalls we often hear about (lettuce, cheese, meats, etc.) 
  • Another strain – Nissle 1917 – is used therapeutically for gastrointestinal issues

Same genus, very different strains and effects. 

Although 99% of the bacteria on earth are either harmless or helpful, even closely related strains don’t necessarily have the same benefits, so it’s important to choose ones that have specifically studied in human trials. (1)

Beyond that, it’s important to remember that even clinically studied strains are not identical in their effects. Some support oral health while others support the immune system, skin health, and more. So in addition to using clinically studied strains of bacteria, it’s important to consider your goals when selecting which one to go with. 

Because I don’t have a specific goal other than to support my microbiome, I use a probiotic that includes twenty-four research-backed strains that support: 

  • Digestive Health, Gastrointestinal Immunity & Gut Barrier Integrity 
  • Dermatological Health 
  • Cardiovascular Health 
  • Micronutrient Synthesis 

If you want to try it out, click here and use MPSAVE15 for 15% off your first month.

Drawing of probiotic bacteria in petri dish

Myth #2 – More Is Always Better ^

Probiotic supplement bottles often say something like “30 billion CFU” in big, bold letters on the front. CFU stands for colony forming units and describes how many living microorganisms are found in each serving, so it seems like it would be a good indicator of potency and therapeutic effectiveness.

More is not necessarily better, though. What really matters is how much of the bacteria will actually make it into your gut alive and whether or not the dosage is likely to have a beneficial effect. 

Let’s take water as an example: There’s a sweet spot of optimal intake – too little and we feel dehydrated, a little too much and we feel uncomfortable and bloated. 

It’s kind of like that with probiotics, so here’s what to look for instead of just a big number: 

Probiotics that have a high degree of survivability, which is the technical term for how many organisms actually make it to the digestive tract alive after going through our stomach acid. Survivability can vary a lot based on the strain and the way it is encapsulated.

Probiotics that use a therapeutic potency range, or the number of CFUs that have been found in human clinical trials to be the most helpful. You definitely want a high enough CFU to match what’s been shown to be beneficial, but several studies have concluded that going far above that range doesn’t usually create any additional benefit and just makes the product more expensive. 

In the future you’ll probably see more probiotics labeled with AFUs (Active Fluorescent Units) alongside or instead of CFUs. AFU is a more accurate way to measure potency, but because most clinical studies have used CFUs they’re usually what you’ll find on product labels. 

Myth #3 – Probiotics Only Benefit Digestive Health ^

While it’s true that probiotics can positively impact our gut health – and that’s no small thing given that in one study 61% of Americans reported experiencing diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, or infrequent bowel movements related to poor digestion – they can have powerful effects on the whole body, too. 

Probiotics directly interact with our immune system, make vitamins and other beneficial compounds for us, and support skin, heart and urinary tract health to name a few benefits – you can read more about the health benefits here

Myth #4 – Probiotics Must Colonize (aka Stick Around) The Digestive Tract To Work ^

When we talk about probiotics we often use the phrase “restore the gut,” which basically refers to consuming good bacteria in hopes that they will colonize the gut. Research doesn’t support the idea that probiotic supplements stick around long-term, though . . . or even that they need to in order to benefit us. 

Our gut microbiome is constantly changing, and it’s strongly influenced by how much fiber we eatstress levelshow well we’re sleeping, and other factors. Though we do tend to have strains that stick with us over time, many beneficial microbes are more like skilled workers that are just passing through town, doing important work before they head on their way. 

So just like we can’t “eat healthy” for one day and expect it to cover our nutritional bases for the other 364 days in a year, probiotics need to be taken consistently in order to deliver the best results. 

probiotic myths 5

Myth #5 – All Probiotics Need To Be Refrigerated To Stay Alive ^

I used to make a beeline for the refrigerated probiotics at my local health food store because I didn’t trust the ones on the regular shelves. After all, if probiotics are sensitive to heat, what was the chance that those probiotics were even still alive?

While it’s true that probiotics need to be protected from excess heat, light and moisture – especially during transport – it’s important not to discount probiotic products that don’t require refrigeration. 

Thanks to a process called  lyophilization (freeze-drying), probiotic makers can now render probiotics dormant, meaning that they stay in an inert, shelf-stable state until they’re reactivated in the digestive tract. 

Though they’re still vulnerable to extreme temperatures, freeze-dried probiotics are fine at room temperature and may actually be better than non-dormant, live bacteria in at least one way: shelf life. In general, live cultures tend to have a shorter shelf life than probiotics that are stored in a dormant state and then reactivated.

Myth #6 – You can’t use probiotics during an antibiotic treatment ^

For a long time we thought of taking probiotic alongside antibiotics as a waste of money because they’d be killed by the medication, but new research suggests that may not always be the case. 

It’s true that antibiotics affect the populations of friendly bacteria that live in our gut and may result in digestive discomfort such as diarrhea as the good guys are killed. However, though antibiotics don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria, some probiotic strains seem to be hardy enough to reach the gut alive, even when taken during a course of antibiotics. 

Two in particular that have been studied are Lactobacillus rhamnosus Rosell-11 and Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52. (2)(3)

With that said, one very small study has brought a bit of controversy to this approach. It found that eight individuals who took probiotics after antibiotics recovered more slowly than those who took nothing at all. (4)

However, a large-scale meta-analysis of 63 other research trials found that probiotics helped reduce at least one of the negative effects of taking antibiotics (digestive distress/loose stools). (5)

In general, it’s recommended that probiotics and antibiotics be taken at least two hours apart from each other. (6)

probiotic myths 7 copy

Myth #7 – Benefits Are Always Noticeable Right Away ^

I recently posted an article about the probiotic I use (which I’ll cover below), and I got a question that said something like, “I just started probiotics three days ago and I feel absolutely no change at all – is this normal?”

Bottom line: Yes. 

While some people notice actually improvement in as little as two days, researchers have also documented benefits at four weeks, twelve weeks, and beyond. (7)(8)(9)

A lot of factors including the microbe strain used, an individual’s unique health status, and the quality of the probiotic can all play a role in how quickly effects might be noticed.  (10)

However, even when right strains, potency, etc. are chosen and the benefits are present, some people may not make a connection between their recently started probiotic and certain subtle benefits. Some of those benefits may include increased skin clarity, bowel regularity, or a more resilient immune system.

What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement ^

Based on the information above, I look for a probiotic that: 

  • Uses specific strains that have been shown in human studies to be beneficial
  • Has a high survivability rate
  • Uses the same therapeutic range (CFUs or AFUs) that have been shown to be helpful in human studies 
Seed Synbiotic bottle

Which Probiotic I Use (And Why) ^

My husband and I both use Seed Synbiotic, which is a 2-in-1 prebiotic and probiotic. (Probiotic + Prebiotic = Synbiotic)

Here’s why Seed is my top choice: 

  • Transparency – Because strain matters, and so does potency, Seed publishes exactly what strains are included and uses the same dosage range that has been shown to deliver a benefit in human studies. Here’s what their blend includes:
    • Digestive Health, Gastrointestinal Immunity & Gut Barrier Integrity Blend (17 research-backed strains)
    • Dermatological Health Blend (5 research-backed strains)
    • Cardiovascular Health Blend (3 research-backed strains)
    • Micronutrient Synthesis Blend (2 research-backed strains)
    • Microbiota-Accessible Prebiotic™ [MAP] Blend (prebiotics)
  • Survivability – Seed uses nested capsules that are designed to survive the harsh environment of the stomach. Basically, there’s an inner capsule with beneficial bacteria that is nested inside an outer capsule filled with a powdered prebiotic made from pomegranate that shields the bacteria from oxygen, moisture, heat, and stomach acid. 
  • Allergen-Free – It’s free of common allergens like dairy, gluten, and soy. 
  • Seed’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid, is literally the guy who coined the word “probiotic.” – In addition, their Scientific Advisory Board is made up of scientists, researchers, doctors and authors across the fields of microbiology, immunology, genetics, metabolomics, gastroenterology, pediatrics, molecular biology, and transcriptomics. They lead labs, teach at world-renowned academic institutions, and have among them 2800+ publications and over 140,000 citations in peer-reviewed scientific journals and textbooks. 

Because probiotics work best when taken regularly, Seed’s Daily Synbiotic is only available via a monthly subscription. However, if needed you can easily skip/reschedule a delivery or cancel if needed. 

Want to try Seed’s Daily Synbiotic? ^

 Click here and use MPSAVE15 for 15% off your first month.

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Overhead view of probiotic capsules


1. Nature Reviews: Microbiology (2011) Microbiology by numbers

2. Tompkins, TA et. al. (2011) The impact of meals on a probiotic during transit through a model of the human upper gastrointestinal tract

3. Anukam, Kingsley et. al. (2006) Augmentation of antimicrobial metronidazole therapy of bacterial vaginosis with oral probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14

4. Song, Hyun Joo et. al. (2010) Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus (Lacidofil® Cap) for the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea: a prospective, randomised double-blind multicenter study

5. Marque Medical. How Probiotics Help While Taking Antibiotics

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding Mommypotamus.com in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

Leave a Comment

51 thoughts on “7 Common Probiotic Myths & What I Take”

  1. Have you heard of Digestion Plus? It’s a prebiotic, probiotic and enzyme supplement that has bacillus coagulens (patented probiotics that withstand the stomach acid and don’t get killed off by them), plus 11 digestive enzymes. I’d love to get your take on those. We have been taking them for a couple years and have good results. Any info from your perspective?

    • Thanks for posting this about probiotic I have been taken probiotic for 10yrs.for my gut .I would like to try gut pro.. Thanks you Dienna

  2. 2 thumbs up for an excellent post that sheds light on a subject, found just about every where and no one seems to know the important parts. Since we have probies advertised on TV now this is a great contribution to clear confusion.

    • While I can understand why you might feel that way, I know Melanie put a lot of time into researching this subject and then translating her findings into an easy-to-read, no-nonsense guide. Considering how much money can be wasted on probiotics that either aren’t high quality or the right strain for an individuals goals, I think a lot of people will find it valuable. No worries if it’s not for you, though! 🙂

  3. Wow, this “blog article” is just one big advertisement for an e-book. With that in mind, it’s hard to take the information here seriously. How unfortunate!

    • Hi Kim, as you may have noticed, there are no ads on Mommypotamus. Though adding them would help cover the costs of running the site (which continue to grow as more server bandwidth is needed), I would much rather support my mission by sharing products I believe in than make you stare at a dancing banana which promises to melt belly fat. This is an ebook I believe has definite value, and I think it was very generous of Melanie to essentially share an entire chapter from her book. If it doesn’t sound like it’s for you, no worries!

      • I came to this article expecting to read about milk and water kefir and fermentation, which are all very good (and very cheap) ways of improving your gut balance, on a daily basis. I was disappointed to just find information about expensive, off-the-shelf pills. I would buy probiotic pills to give myself a big boost if I’d had antibiotics (which I would only take under extreme circumstances), but I think that they’re unnecessary, for most people, under most circumstances, if you eat the correct diet.

  4. Good info, good luck. I *might* pay up to $9 for an ebook, but absolutely no way will I pay $19. That is not market for any ebook. The photo accompanying this post makes it clear which products the author recommends.

    • You can also find two more brands she recommends on my Shopping List. They are great general health probiotics: https://mommypotamus.com/shopping-list/

      Melanie’s book is more than a list of brand recommendations, though. It contains information about which strains are beneficial for particular health objectives along with suggestions for dosage when starting out.

      • Thanks so much for this post! I’ve just found your site and am really finding it helpful! I tried to look at specifics on your shopping list but couldn’t pull up the links. I will try again from my computer. Thanks!

      • Wow! I know you probably won’t accept this comment, but I can’t believe the ignorance of some people! You are much more forgiving and tolerant than I am. They won’t pay $19 for an ebook that took Melanie untold hours to research and compile, but will pay $9 for a pile of crap! It boggles my mind. But I commend you for your patience and the way you so maturely handle them. I think they expect to get all of the information for free, like people don’t have to make a living. I guess they will continue on with their collective heads in the sand while the rest of us get educated for $19.

        • I know I’m late to the party but you said everything I wanted to say! It’s absurd how people act on here, like they are owed something just for visiting a site! Offended by a price! Get over yourselves people!
          Good job Heather handling them with grace.

  5. First let me say that I am shocked at the negative comments about the e-book. If you think that is to much money for you to spend then don’t buy it. No comment needed just don’t buy it. Second let me say I so focused on what she was saying about the probiotics that I didn’t even notice it there was even an e-book involved. Good info thank you for posting it. And lastly let me leave you with this quote ” If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all”.

    • Totally agree! How do people think people make a living researching the hell out of this stuff and then sharing with those of us that it might help? Will take this over annoying ads ANY DAY.

    • Totally agree! I loved this article and the info was exactly what I was looking for and I will be purchasing the book. Someone’s hard work and dedication towards children’s health, as well as my love for my little one, is definitely worth $19 . I find it so odd how people don’t just move along if they don’t want to buy something instead, they have to put people down. Pretty sad when it is under $20. I also did not find this a big ad. It was an informative article. It would have taken me many searches of multiple websites and lots of reading to find out the info summarized here.

  6. Hello everyone, and thanks for the information. I’ve got a burning question and I decided to post it here because it’s the only result that came in when I searched the site for “enterococcus”… So, babies have it too…
    The thing is, I’m 36 weeks pregnant and have been diagnosed with UTI by some enterococcus sp. The infection was discovered early in pregnancy, and treated with antibiotics according to the antiobiogram. However, at about 30 weeks the germ appeared again, although in lower numbers.

    Could someone please explain to me how this could affect my baby? I understand that in case of UTI, there’s a risk of early delivery, but that is not the case for me, as I’m already almost at term, and the baby seems to be in no hurry.
    And if I should still get rid of it before I give birth, do you have any suggestions as to what natural remedies would work for this bug and still be safe to use given my condition?
    Please give me some piece of advice! I’m afraid my doctor is going to prescribe me another set of antibiotics, and I really don’t want them. Please help!

    • Just happened to see your comment…. Our daughter has spina bifida with intermittent cathing needed, so I’ve learned a lot about UTIs. 🙂 I don’t know if it’s too late for this advice, but in case not, here goes! 🙂 Probiotics can actually help fight UTIs!! So personally I’d follow all the advice in this post above!! 🙂 (As long as none of the supplements are contraindicated for pregnancy.) Probiotics for you right now should also help your baby be born with a better chance of good microbiome health. Maybe ?? increased probiotics will cure the UTI? Another thing you can add is cranberry juice to help against the UTI. Also, make sure your environment/home (especially bedroom) has no mold (I know, that sounds weird). IF they insist on antibiotics, make sure they do a susceptibilities test first. This should prevent them from giving you an antibiotic that won’t kill the infection anyway and be way more harmful than good. This is my two cents. 😀 Otherwise, I don’t know the risks of just leaving it during birth, etc…. But probiotics (especially through food) can’t hurt, I don’t think! 🙂 Hopefully you are doing okay!

    • Hi, I work in pathology and report these UTIs. Enterococcus sp. are known to be involved with UTIs – they are normal enteric flora, ie they are normal bacteria in our poo so they can frequently cause UTIs in women because these areas are so close (wiping front to back helps prevent UTIs). Enterococci are not considered significant with respect to babies “in utero”. Pregnant women are more prone to UTIs due to pressure on the bladder (may prevent the need to wee to clear bacteria that you would normally wee out easily if you were not pregnant). Sometimes (rarely), UTIs may bring on your labour on early. That is why midwifes/obstetricians test your urine during the last trimester. Hope this helps to easy your mind 🙂

    • This is probably too late for you, but perhaps someone else can be helped…homeopathic Cantharis is and excellent remedy for UTI’s and homeopathy is completely saf for anyone, even while pregnant. Google Joette Calabrese UTI for more homeopathic options.

  7. Wonderful information!!! Reminds me I need to try to “branch out” more…. 🙂 I am one that cannot take ANY pills because of added ingredients, processes of how they create the pills, etc., so I am glad to know Myth # 6!!!! 🙂 But, your article reminded me that I need to get out of my habit of a couple of my favorites and do ALL of them more often! If I understand correctly, different foods produce different strains of probiotics, I think? So, apple cider vinegar with bedtime snack tonight! 😀 Over all, even though my system/gut has been HORRIBLY compromised, I have had excellent results with just probiotic foods. I am very grateful. Though I do wish I could be more specific with strains. Do you think varying foods will help this (cider vinegar/fermented ketchup, saur kraut, fermented pickles, cultured herb drinks, yogurt, ginger ale, etc.)? Also, you probably already know this, but herbicides kill good gut bacteria. I am EXTREMELY sensitive to all chemicals, and when accidentally around herbicides one time (helicopter spraying on railroad tracks), I got so sick I was nearly vomiting. What cured it–probiotic foods!!! 🙂 Took getting away from the herbicide and about 12 hours of probiotic drinks and yogurt, but I was able to eat after that. Quite an experience. So thankful I knew the connection. Again, thanks for the post!

  8. I am allergic to a lot of chemicals so I am living without supplements(as same as hundreds of our friends). For probiotic there are a plenty of traditional foods to use:
    -home made yogurt or sour milk ( just put raw milk in a jar and keep it warm) . Ok for kefir ( I don’t have it).
    – homemade sourdough bread ( needs time)
    -pickles : vegetables, water, salt; condiments are just for flavor; I take inspiration from north european countries, and a french site ni cru ni cuit (cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, lemons, olives, cucumbers, apples, red beetroot, cauliflower, garlic,turnips etc etc)
    -sour cream, fermented cheese, homemade cheese
    -borsh ( russian ideas about fermentation)
    -put grains in water to consume next days
    -wine and beer (yamy, sst)
    -flowers and ginger marinated for 1-2 days
    In plus, these have not only probiotic bacterias, but tones of vitamins.

    One comment: the salt with additives can block the fermentation.. we use a row salt, from a local mine.

    Our family didn’t visit any pharmacy in the last 5 yeas, we checked the doctor once per year, I donate blood 4 times per year, every doctor is satisfied.

  9. I don’t know where to start! Please help get me started on probiotics! Which brand? What foods? How do I prepare them?

  10. Do you have any opinion about probiotic brands that claim to kill Candida, like probio5 through plexus? Does the ebook include brands like klarelabs? I want to take the best for myself as well as my children and starting the research is very stressful and overwhelming! I would pay $19 for a book or e a book that can save me some steps!!

    • The ebook does make some brand recommendations – most of which can be purchased directly and a few that are available through practitioners.

  11. Hi Heather, I’ve been researching probiotics extensively before choosing a brand for my LO, and stumbled across the topic of myths / misconceptions – of which there seem to be plenty! What do you think of these myths here? http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/live-cultures/probiotic-myths written by a company, so likely pushing their own agenda. but they are heavily referenced with studies. Interestingly some are spot on with yours, and others, not! Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks for your time in advance.

  12. So I’m testing out a probiotic we use for potency by placing it in 4oz of milk on the counter for 24-48hrs and see if it turns into yogurt or curdles. But someone I know who works at a vitamin place said that some probiotics won’t work in this test because they’re freeze dried and the probiotics that are freeze dried don’t react til it touches your bile. Is this true or is this a load of crap? I feel like this is a load of crap.

  13. Hi. I got UTIs before. It always happened every month for 1 year and then my friend recommended this bentilia pasta. It has guts and controls bacteria, may it be good or bad bacteria. Bentilia is made of 100% lentil and bean pasta and it eliminates bad calories. You should try it because aside from it is delicious it is healthy as well.

    • I got so sick I was nearly vomiting. What cured it–probiotic foods!!! ? Took getting away from the herbicide and about 12 hours of probiotic drinks and yogurt, but I was able to eat after that. Quite an experience. So thankful I knew the connection. Again, thanks for the post!

  14. Probiotics are a must for our diets. I’m trying to get most of them from natural sources but sometimes supplements help as well.

  15. It’s a good thing that I read this article. The topic is very timely. There are some misconceptions about taking probiotics. Now that you mentioned some information on when to take this, people will not get confused.

  16. I know it sounds expensive for an e-book BUT I bought it last year and it was a lifesaver knowing what probiotics to give my kids with specific issues. Worth every penny!!!

    Side note question:

    Every time I give my 2 year old son Gut pro he gets mean and in a bad mood plus a yeast rash behind his legs, bum, and abdomen. He has horrible candida so I’m trying to get it under control but it seems like he can’t tolerate probiotics. Any idea on what to do?

    • 5 stars
      Hey Lisa!

      I don’t know if anyone has replied to your comment, but I thought I would really quick.

      What it sounds like is happening is that the probiotic is working. Those are all symptoms of candida dieoff.. which is a good thing! There are a couple of things that you can do to help him get through that process.
      1. Lower the dose – it could just be too many probiotics at once for him. If you can, lower the dose. There are actually certain strains that are specifically for littles and their tummies. Probiotics aren’t a one-size-fits-all.. so you want to be sure you’re giving him strains that are good for him, at his age.
      2. Make sure he’s eliminating. He needs to poop every.single.day. and probably at least twice a day. If he’s not, all of the toxins are going to come out in the way that you described.
      3. Make sure he’s drinking enough water. Again, to keep things moving and eliminating.
      4. Make sure he’s not feeding the candida while also trying to “kill off” the overgrowth. Things that feed candida are sugar (and things that turn to sugar in the body – white bread, pasta, etc), artificial sweeteners/colors/flavors, chlorinated water, antibiotics. Also, things that “wipe” the immune system like over-sanitizing everything can hinder that process.

  17. Thanks for a super post.
    Healing the Gut is key to fixing many issues.
    It is said that nearly every disease originates in your digestive system. I mean both physical and mental disease. Once you heal and fix your gut lining, and make your digestive system work properly again, disease symptoms may be eradicated.
    Fermented foods, good probiotic supplements and even organic apple cider vinegar.


  18. One more myth that I commonly see circled for probiotics is how many billion CFUs does your probiotic have and that more is better. While this matters, what becomes more important also is how many of these probiotic strains are alive while you are consuming it.

    A probiotic that has been on the shelves for 6 months or more is likely to have lost a high number of their live bacteria. So just don’t look at the billion CFUs but also when the product was manufactured.

  19. I didn’t read all the comments so I hope I’m not re-asking something unnecessary. What about chewable probiotics? Do they actually make it through your stomach alive? Or is it best to take capsules that open in the intestine?

  20. 5 stars
    This is a very timely article and I WILL BE PAYING $19.00 for your e-book! I am having issues with gut & not enough information to purchase proper probiotics out there. Most sales clerks are more interested in selling their products than answering questions(due to lack of knowledge and correct information) or at least this is what I have encountered when purchasing my probiotics. Last time I was shopping for them I asked the difference in the probiotics on the shelf and the ones refridgerated and was told “Oh the refridgerated ones have more live potency. Go figure $19.00 to educate yourself VS. &80.00 for probiotics that may or may not be right for your issue.
    Thank you Heather