Adequate microbial exposure is an essential component of an Organic Fitness Regimen. Rapid and powerful changes to human living conditions beginning with the Agricultural Revolution set the stage for a loss of “old microbial friends” and perturbations of the human microbiome. In westernized nations today it’s unlikely that even those people we consider to be in perfect health harbor a truly healthy microbiome. This is because most people use broad-spectrum antibiotics sometime during their lives, eat a less than optimal diet, and live a life that is very disconnected from the natural environment. In other words, we could probably all benefit from paying a little more attention to our microbial inhabitants, regardless of whether we feel sick or not.
I’m not a big proponent of supplements in general, but I think high-quality probiotics can be an exception, largely because getting the right types of microorganisms through other sources can be difficult. Of course, fermented foods and other “natural” sources of beneficial bacteria are important, but probiotic supplements/drugs can often prove valuable as well. However, that doesn’t mean simply heading into the health food store to pick up a random probiotic supplement is going to do you much good. The health effects listed on the label might seem impressive, but the fact is that most of the probiotic supplements you’ll find only provide minor benefits.
Some of the reasons why many probiotic supplements fail are:
- The majority of probiotic supplements only contain a handful of species of lactic acid bacteria, bacteria that do some good on their way through your body, but don’t necessarily take up permanent residence in your gut. In other words, the bacteria found in probiotic supplements aren’t necessarily adapted to live in the human gut. As Dr. Art Ayers says: Dairy probiotics don’t repair gut flora.
- Probiotic supplements often don’t contain the number of live bacteria listed on the jar.
- Most probiotic products on the market have never been clinically studied.
- There’s often no scientific evidence which shows that the bacteria survive through the stomach acid.
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean that every probiotic supplement you see at your favorite health food store are a waste of money, as there are certainly a wide variety of probiotic products out there. However, if the choice is between a jar of “lactobacillus probiotics” and some homemade sauerkraut, you’re much better off with the sauerkraut. The fact is that at the moment, there aren’t really that many great probiotic supplements out there. This is likely going to change in the near future though, as several microbiome companies are now in the process of developing biotherapeutic agents (probiotics) that are to be used in the treatment of various diseases and disorders (1).
So, should we just wait until thoroughly scientifically tested microbiome modulators are made available to the public in the future? Not necessarily. There are some probiotic supplements out there worth trying, two of which are Mutaflor and Probiotic-3. Other popular probiotics, such as Prescript Assist and Primal Defense, can also be worth a try, but I tend to favor the two aforementioned. Another probiotic supplement, VSL#3, is one of the most scientifically studied probiotics on the market, and it is regularly used in the dietary management of IBS, IBD, and other gastrointestinal disorders. However, in my opinion it is probably not the best option for the relatively healthy person who’s looking to boost his/her gut health long-term.
I have no affiliation with the companies that produce these products. As always, the goal is just to highlight possible solutions and strategies that you can use to improve your health. Also, since I have received some questions over the years as to which supplements I recommend, I thought it was appropriate to make this post.
Mutaflor is a probiotic comprised of a viable non-pathogenic bacteria strain named Escherichia coli Nissle 1917.
The strain was first isolated in Germany by professor Alfred Nissle in the year 1917. Today, the bacteria is grown in fermenters and is placed into enteric-coated gelatine capsules.
Mutaflor has been on the market for almost a century and has been clinically studied for use in a variety of diseases and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. A number of European studies on E. coli Nissle 1917 have shown positive results when used in conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, chronic constipation, prolonged diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and pouchitis. (2)
This product is fairly expensive and the shipping cost can be high; but it is likely going to be worth the money. This is one of the most potent probiotic supplements out there.
(Update: I’ve written a comprehensive article on Mutaflor that details all you need to know about this supplement.)
ProBiotic 3 contains three strains of bacteria: Streptococcus faecalis, Clostridium butyricum and Bacillus mesentericus. S. faecalis is naturally found in the gastrointestinal tract and is helpful in preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. C. butyricum is also a natural part of the microflora, and breaks down dietary fiber that is otherwise indigestible. This breakdown produces several nutrients, including ones that are used by human cells in the digestive tract, and that reduce inflammation and intestinal permeability. B. mesentericus supports the growth of the other two bacteria as well as the beneficial bacterial strain bifidobacterium. (3)
Some possible places to buy Probiotic-3:
Final words: As always, low exposure to harmful substances, a healthy diet rich in prebiotic fibers, and adequate exposure to microorganisms in general are what lay the foundation for a healthy microbiome. These products are more like the final decorations on the cake.