Probiotics: beneficial or spore taste?

Written by Special Contributor, Jennifer Barrell, MS, CNS, LDN

Spore probiotics are spore forming bacteria or soil-based organisms (SBO’s) that come from Mother Nature. Synergistic in nature, they come from the soil and are found in animals as well. Spores are like tiny seeds that blossom in the warm, humid climate of our intestines. It is generally believed that in modern day we have lost touch with the earth (literally) and therefore we could be lacking in these beneficial bacteria that may offer a wide array of benefits. The most widely studied spore species may arguably be Bacillus subtilis, however there are MANY more!

B subtilis is a spore commonly found in the soil around the root and grass level. It is known as one of the most resistant gram-positive bacteria. B subtilis started its journey as a supplement in 1958 when an Italian company began using it as a treatment for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO. SIBO is a condition where bacteria start to grow in an unwanted territory- the small intestines. Risk factors for SIBO include chronic constipation, low stomach acid, multiple rounds of antibiotics, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, or prior bowel surgery. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, distension, constipation, diarrhea, gas/belching and malnutrition.

Spore probiotics’ biggest claim to fame is their durability: they are heat stable and can survive a low pH. There is also much science indicating they can resporulate.  All of this means they transport well in supplement form (no fridge needed!), they have a better chance of making to the intestines and they may actually re-inoculate the gut with their beneficial selves.  However, repopulation may not always be the end goal. SBO’s have been known to induce gas and other unfavorable GI symptoms. They may also stimulate the immune system, which could be beneficial for some, but not others.

Regular probiotics are native to the human body; be it in the gut, skin, nose, mouth, etc. Most effective probiotics list a genus, family and strain. A common example would be Lactobacillus (genus) rhamnosus (family) GG (strain). Probiotics with good science behind them almost always list the strains. Specific probiotics are good for specific symptoms, and the strain is what helps indicate what that particular one will do. Unfortunately probiotics are delicate bugs, so they have the highest chance of survival if taken first thing on an empty stomach, preferably with something like yogurt (for powders or open capsules).

Their delicacy brings up the point of refrigeration. Is it necessary? Why do some survive a box on the shelf and others don’t? It really just depends on the strain. Some are more delicate and require certain climates to remain stable; making it imperative to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Probiotics are also transient, and they do not repopulate. This does not take away from their strength of action. When specific strains of probiotics are correctly matched to the appropriate symptom for enough time, their effects can be seen far and wide. 

The take away here is that they are both beneficial, it just depends on what outcome you are looking for. Research (and experience) indicates certain spore forming probiotics can helpful for patients with IBS or allergies, and taken concurrently with antibiotics. Taking them for 3 months to one year may suffice.

 

More about the author:

Jennifer Barrell, MS, CNS, LDN, is a wife, mother of two perfect little ones, and a functional/clinical nutritionist currently living and helping people navigate their way to health in Naples, FL. 

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