If you wonder, “Is my probiotic really helping or not?”, today we'll get to the bottom of that question for those who worry that they may be spending a lot of money for nothing.
You'll learn about a supplement that's available now, it's a probiotic AND an antioxidant. (Click here if you just want to know where to get it.) Read on for all the details from Joanie… (Or catch these newer posts: This Mom will make you cry, how ONE change made all the difference for her son… and Can Leaky Gut be Healed? Find Out HOW: Study Showed Reversal in 30 Days)
Is My Probiotic Really Helping or am I Wasting Money?
By Joanie Blaxter, founder of Follow Your Gut
“It's well known in the medical world that the live microflora in probiotics and fermented foods are all killed by stomach acid.”
My jaw dropped when my boss at the supplements company told me that way back in 2004! And he was not just my boss, but also an exceptional nutritional researcher and formulator, naturopathic physician with a clinical practice, and a teacher at the naturopathic college nearby.
“But, how can that possibly be when people clearly experience benefit from probiotics?” I asked.
After all, I'd been in the natural foods and products industry my entire life and sold (and personally consumed) more than my fair share of these expensive bottles of capsules.
The doctor gave me a thoughtful look. “The mechanism is not clearly understood, but the medical guess is that possibly the bacterial dead cell bodies provide some kind of nutrition for the live microflora already there. But what you consume definitely doesn't survive to the intestines, or at best,” he held his thumb and forefingers tightly together, “it's a miniscule amount. We know that for sure.”
As a person with lifelong gut problems, this was shocking to me. Granted, I didn't personally feel that much different when I took probiotics, but, crap (no pun intended), weren't they at least doing something?!?
Since that conversation more than a dozen years ago, it hasn't been that I entirely forgot what the good doc said. However, over the intervening years, as a health coach and retail vitamin specialist who has regularly heard testimonials about conventional probiotics helping with food poisoning, nausea from antibiotic use, onset of a cold, healing digestive disorders (especially when used with the GAPS Diet), etc., in retrospect, I decided that the nutritive support that these bacteria appeared to provide, regardless of whether or not they were dead or alive in the intestines, appeared to be better than none, especially apparently for specific, acute conditions.
The newest science… (keep reading, the breakthrough is coming!)
The most recent science shows that we do, indeed, support a huge community of microflora in our gut. I think of my intestines as a major metropolitan area, comprised of trillions of bacteria, and, probably because I'm originally from the east coast, I picture them accomplishing enormous amounts of work, while gesturing to one another and talking in a fast-paced, New York City accent. 🙂
Just like in an urban area, there are many classes and functions to these bacterial workers. Some bacteria are high level communicators who direct others in their work. Others are more like the worker bees in the hive. But since it's in the best interest of our probiotic bacteria that we humans, their “container,” stay healthy, they all work hard together to help us thrive. This is why there is actually more neural communication from the gut to the brain than the reverse.
We have also recently learned that the average microbiome of a western industrialized human is far weaker, having fewer quantity and less diversity of microflora, than those of rural, nonindustrialized populations.
Why? In large part it's due to our exposure to:
- Pesticides, notably glyphosate (Roundup) Read more: Why Glyphosate is Dangerous
- Most pharmaceutical medications, including birth control pills — read more: The Dangers of the Birth Control Pill
- A more sterile environment (think hand sanitizers)
- Antibiotics, both in food as well as prescribed as a medication, which can impair our gut microbiome for up to TWO YEARS… or more.
These all can and DO kill the bacteria in our gut.
Ok, where's the “breakthrough” you promised?
Strains of protective probiotic bacteria that survive digestive acid to actively colonize the gut have actually been in use for decades, both for humans as well as farm animals. Unfortunately though, for the U.S., most of us here have not had access to these particular strains. Why?
These robust strains are costly to manufacture, so most probiotic companies selling to the public in this country chose to concentrate on the less expensive forms known as the “reseeding” strains. Also, the hardier strains were initially marketed primarily to and through physicians in Europe and Asia, and so were largely only available by prescription (as they still are today).
These “breakthrough” probiotic strains are called endospore bacillus and learning about how they function in the gut has entirely changed the way I look at what a microbiome needs to remain healthy.
It is true that the majority of the bacterial population in the human gut is made up of lacto and bifido strains. However, the strains of lacto and bifido that thrive in our gut are NOT exactly the same as ones that grow in lacto-fermented foods or in probiotic pills. Why not?
Because the strains in our gut are ANAEROBIC, that is, they thrive in an environment that has no oxygen.
The strains in fermented foods, or those grown in a lab, reproduce in an oxygen-exposed environment and, by definition, are not well suited to the human gut. This makes them quite fragile.
Thus, even if a very small percentage of these microbes survive the harsh rigors of the strong acids of the human digestive tract, microbiologists say our newest technology clearly shows that strains from food and conventional probiotics do NOT remain in the gut and reproduce there. They simply pass through the human body to be excreted in the bowel movement.
If all they do is pass through, does that mean the lacto and bifido strains from fermented food or probiotic pills are worthless?
Absolutely not! Because we also know that we get well-documented immune benefit from consuming these kinds of transient bacteria, even if microbiologists, at this point, don't fully understand the mechanism for how.
Sandor Katz, author with Sally Fallon of the fermentation classic, Wild Fermentation, in a panel discussion on May 11, 2016 at UCLA called Microbes: From Your Food to Your Brain offered a possible explanation.
One scientific guess, Katz said, about the origin of the benefit of fermented foods is that there may be an advantageous genetic exchange between the alive microbes residing in the gut with the dead transient microbial passersby as they move through the intestines. Or another possibility, as my doctor friend suggested, is that the dead cell bodies of the consumed microbes provide nutrition for the live bacteria.
Bottom line? We just don't know enough yet to state definitively how the bacteria in live, fermented foods can produce benefit to the immune system; we just know that to a degree they do.
So how do the endospore bacillus function differently?
An endospore bacillus is a family of bacteria that has naturally evolved over time to be particularly hardy by developing a shell. This outside endospore not only protects it against extremes like moisture and dehydration, heat and cold, and the harsh acids of the bile and stomach, but also enables it to naturally survive in environments that are both oxygen-rich, like air, as well as anaerobic, like the human intestines.
This allows the endospore bacillus to safely exist in our external environment for eons, literally just waiting for the chance to be inhaled, drunk or consumed by a human. And once it reaches the small intestines, the shell falls away so the bacteria actually remains in your gut, actively reproducing.
I learned this by getting exposed to a new probiotic that has only recently launched here in the U.S. Ten years in the making, this is the first endospore-based probiotic to be sold at the retail level in this country that has been shown to arrive 100% alive in the intestines, actively colonize the gut, and produce antioxidants.
There are now 5 questions I ask when choosing a probiotic.
1. Is this probiotic endospore-based?
Clinical studies show that spore-based bacteria (Bacillus indicus HU36, Bacillus coagulans, Bacillus clausii, Bacillus subtilis HU58) have a 100% survival rate.
*What do tests show for how much of the non-spore bacteria survive digestion (which is what most probiotics on the market are)?
LESS THAN .01%
*How do you know whether or not your probiotic is endospore-based or not?
Look on your bottle. If the name of the strain starts with lacto or bifido it is NOT an spore forming probiotic. Spore forming strains are all bacillus. The lacto and bifido strains are what is known as the “reseeding” forms. Relying on this kind of probiotic is like throwing just a few seeds to the ground when the chances of any of them reproducing are LESS THAN ONE IN A MILLION.
*If a probiotic is so fragile that it must be refrigerated at 50 degrees in order to survive to the day it is sold, how can it possibly successfully reproduce at 98.6 degrees in the human body?
There are companies who claim that their reseeding probiotics have some kind of coating which creates a delayed release. Look on the label or marketing literature for any references to clinical testing proving that their strains do in fact survive digestion and actively colonize the gut. If you don't see any… think twice.
2. If it is an endospore probiotic, are all the strains safe, human-derived and gut commensal?
When soil-based endospore bacteria began to be marketed years ago as a probiotic for humans, they were renamed “soil-based organisms” (SBOs). SBOs are actually a category of endospore bacillus designed by nature to reproduce in and enrich the earth. They are what farmers love because they break down plant and animal matter, fix nitrogen, fertilize soil, etc.
There is one big difference with this probiotic: While SBOs and the strains used are both in the category of endospore bacillus, the strains are 100% gut commensal, NOT soil-based.
But because nature created them to exist specifically in the earth, as a probiotic SBOs simply pass through the human body and, on their way, may stimulate the immune system to some degree. However, they do not colonize or effect any real, lasting change in the microbiome.
More than that, some soil organisms can be harmful to humans. Unless they have been well studied and characterized by researchers, you don’t necessarily know what they are going to do in the body. You may want to request verification of safety studies on any SBO strain you don't recognize on a probiotic label.
3. Are the strains in this probiotic “smart” high-level communicators?
As I said, bacteria are extremely varied in terms of the jobs they perform in our body. As a comparison, when an area has been destroyed by a natural disaster, highly trained personnel are always brought in first. Why? Because they have the ability to most effectively instruct the rest of the workers in how to fix the disaster.
Similarly, these strains were carefully chosen as the most intelligent of the bacillus world. All four strains use “quorum sensing” to read the intestinal environment. Bacillus subtilis, for example, is able to produce 12 antibiotics that selectively target and destroy pathological bacteria while at the same time making nutrients to assist probiotic strains to regrow and thrive.
Unlike lacto and bifido strains, which are comparable to seeds tossed to the ground, the four forms of bacillus in this probiotic perform like “smart” gardeners to selectively pull out only unwanted weeds while simultaneously adding amendments to enhance the growth of desired plants.
This is why these particular strains create a disproportionately large impact on both diversity as well as total numbers of the intestinal population. In fact, testing has shown that these four strains alone stimulate a 30% change for the better in the microbiome simply by selectively killing pathological strains while simultaneously nurturing the growth of the good ones. (For those suffering from depression, keep in mind that 90% of serotonin is produced by specific probiotic strains in the gut. Do you have enough of the right bacteria?)
4. How have these probiotic strains been researched, chosen and manufactured?
Something that is very significant, is that this probiotic currently has five ongoing human clinical trials, four of which will be completed by the end of 2016, testing for:
- Leaky gut
- Liver failure
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Hashimoto's disease/Thyroid conditions
Results in the now complete leaky gut trial show that it heals off the tight junctions in the intestinal wall. This has potential implications for the treatment of virtually any condition affected by gut dysbiosis (poor gut health).
Click here to get the only probiotic and antioxidant I take now, or keep reading to learn more.
Can your probiotics manufacturer answer the following questions?
- If a spore bacteria, is this strain soil-based or gut commensal?
- Has 3rd party testing been done that demonstrates that the strains survive gastric passage?
- Were these strains grown separately or together in a single vat?
- Where is the supplier located?
- How much of each strain is in the product?
- Where did the strains originate from?
- Has DNA analysis been done on each strain to verify label claims?
- Has each strain been published with safety profiles?
- Does each strain have proven clinical benefit to humans?
- Are the strains verified, branded, registered and licensed?
- Can chain of custody as to the origin of each strain be shown?
- Are any clinical trials being conducted on the finished product?
5. Does this probiotic produce high levels of antioxidants?
We think of our best source of antioxidants as being from fruits and vegetables. But could it be possible that most of what gets absorbed is actually coming from the correct strains of bacteria in our gut? (IF we have the correct strains…)
These correct strains produce a range of nutrients, detoxifiers and antioxidants, including:
- Quinols (as in CoQ10-Quinol, etc)
- Vitamin B Complex
- Vitamin K2 (read my article here about how I was able to rid my teeth of virtually all tartar by getting correctly diagnosed by a microbiome expert as being K2 deficient)
And that's not all! Bacillus indicus HU36 is patent-pending and completely unique because it makes seven antioxidants in amounts as high as the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) – so not just a dusting, but substantial, measurable levels.
Furthermore, these vitamins and antioxidants are produced exactly at the microvilli site of nutrient uptake, virtually guaranteeing high absorption rates.
Avoiding the body's destructive digestive acids is important to any kind of absorption because, no surprise, stomach and bile acids can negatively impact the nutrients in any supplement or food, not just probiotics.
Bacillus Indicus HU36 produces:
- Alpha carotene
- Beta carotene
So, overall what's the best thing I can do?
My personal approach these days now is, on a daily basis, to take both my endospore bacillus probiotic as well as at least one serving of live, fermented foods. (Such as real, raw sauerkraut, dairy kefir, etc.)
The bacillus strains in my probiotic function like actual gardeners in my microbiome to:
- Pull weeds (kill the pathological strains),
- Encourage the growth of new varieties of desirable plants (expand the diversity of probiotic strains),
- Make and selectively distribute their own fertilizer (increase total numbers), and
- Help plants to reseed and propagate.
And eating fermented foods is like adding extra compost to my garden. From my perspective, I figure I can't lose with that combination!
But, beyond fermented foods, what about purchasing lacto and bifido based probiotic pills?
Testing that was recently done by researchers at the University of California questions the quality of many conventional probiotics, a concern I heard echoed by microbiologist, Elaine Hsiao, at the recent UCLA panel discussion she shared with Sandor Katz on May 11, 2016.
After testing 16 easily obtained probiotic products, UC researchers were only able to find one whose label matched the contents: strains were missing, quantities were lower than labeled, or strains that were not on the label, were, in fact, in the product. See more on this at Quality Control of Probiotics Lacking, Nov, 2015.
In trying to decipher a probiotic label, frequently what you'll see is a “proprietary” cocktail mix of strains. The reason for this is that most combinations are grown by suppliers (often times overseas and/or in China) in a single vat into which all the strains are thrown together. This mixing of strains produces a highly unreliable product, as the testing cited above demonstrates.
Endospore bacillus are very safe, having been prescribed for decades, for both humans as well as farm animals, to be taken in conjunction with antibiotics to prevent intestinal inflammation and discomfort. These spore-based bacillus not only survive exposure to the medication, they also curb the negative effects antibiotics have on the microbiome by encouraging the regrowth of probiotic lacto and bifido strains.
How do I take it?
Best with food simply because the bacteria like to eat the food you eat, so taking it with a meal means the repopulation rate is higher. Took it on an empty stomach? No worries! They still survive and make it to the small intestines.
In fact, the strains survive temperatures up to 455 degrees! Not only do they travel well, but the cap can be opened and the powder added to any food or drink, hot or cold, even baked, and are tasteless, colorless and odorless.
What's die-off? The bacillus strains will immediately go to work in your intestines killing off pathological strains. The protein cell bodies of these dead microflora will need to be filtered out of your system by your detoxifying organs. If your liver and kidneys get temporarily overwhelmed, you may experience fatigue, gastrointestinal discomfort, headache or any kind of aggravation of your usual, chronic symptoms. This just means your gut is rebalancing itself because it likely has too many pathological strains and not enough “good” ones. Your intestinal population needs help to “get to the other side,” so stick with it!
If that happens? Drink lots of water and simply back off to one cap every other day or even every third day to give your detoxifying organs a chance to catch up.
Who can take it? As always, consult with your doctor before taking any medication and/or supplements. However, this has been safely given to pregnant and nursing mothers, infants, toddlers and children, elders and those on medication.
For more information on a fungally based (as opposed to a bacillus based) probiotic that similarly survives antibiotics, and so is also ideal to take during an antibiotic protocol, see my article The One Probiotic to Take When Taking an Antibiotic – This Info May Save Your Life Someday.
Anyone out there already have experiences using spore-based bacillus, most frequently prescribed by both doctors and vets to accompany antibiotics? If so, tell us what you think.
- Here's a new post with a beautiful testimony: This Mom Will Make You Cry: How One Small Change Brought Help and Hope for Her Autistic Son!
This was a post by my sweet friend, Joanie Blaxter, who is a regular writer around here. Joanie is the founder of Follow Your Gut and a health coach who has been in sales and education in the natural foods and products industry since the early 70’s, with six years spent recently as a vitamin specialist in a natural foods store. She is also the Weston Price chapter leader for the Ventura, CA area.