According to the National Institutes of Health, probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products.”
You’re probably used or been recommended traditional probiotics—multi-strain, lactobacillus and/or bifido-bacterium based formulas that have been available on retailer shelves for decades. But spore probiotics are changing the probiotics game. Let’s look at what they are, how they can help you, and who should use them.
What ARE spore probiotics?
Spore-based probiotics are probiotic supplements that contain spore-forming beneficial bacteria. Spore-based probiotic supplements contain bacteria that are known to release spores (think of them as little probiotic babies) that can flourish and multiply in the large intestine. Fun fact—mushrooms also reproduce in nature by releasing spores! The main type of spore-based probiotic in supplement form is the Bacillus species—if you see this on the strain of bacteria in your supplement, you’ve got a spore probiotic!
How are spore probiotics different from “regular” probiotics?
To contrast these to other common types of probiotics, non-spore based beneficial bacteria and yeasts can still take up residence after being ingested without releasing spores to populate the area. Some examples of these types of probiotics are lactobacillus, bifidobacteria, and saccharomyces boulardii. Their presence alone helps to increase the population.
Spore probiotics, on the other hand, recondition the gut by increasing microbial diversity and promoting the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the gut.
What do they do?
A lot of the recent studies published about spore-based probiotics are funded by supplement companies that make them, which can be problematic in terms of finding non-biased research regarding the topic. However, it should be noted that this is how we know a lot about medicine in general so it does not discredit the research all together.
In the medical literature, taking spore-based probiotic supplements have been shown to have positive benefit to the lining of the GI tract, improve nutrient synthesis and metabolism, decrease triglyceride levels, and decrease inflammation in the GI tract (1). They are very resistant to different temperatures and acid levels in the stomach and are said to make it all the way to the colon before releasing their spores, which is the ideal location!
Are there side effects to taking these probiotics?
Common side effects that can occur when starting probiotics are GI symptoms such as gas, bloating, and changes in bowel movements. These usually only last a couple of days and are typically caused by the (beneficial) changes that are taking place in terms of the composition of the GI flora.
These symptoms can be mitigated by decreasing the amount of the probiotic you take and building your way up slowly (example: starting with 1 capsule every other day instead of daily). If you take probiotics and your stomach symptoms do not improve or worsen over time, this could be a sign of another type of GI condition, like SIBO.
Who are spore based probiotics recommended for?
Clinically, I like to utilize spore-based probiotics in addition to other types of well-researched probiotics (such as the lactobacillus species) in those who are working on increasing the amount of beneficial flora in the GI tract. Those with inflammatory types of GI conditions, such as IBD, may also benefit. According to the research, since they also improve GI lining, those with intestinal permeability aka “leaky gut” may also benefit (2).
Spore-based probiotic supplements are an option in the market that seem to have promising data to back up their claims; however I would like to see larger studies not funded by the supplement companies to confirm the benefit of their use. While I do not believe they are the answer for everyone, the risk to trying them is low and I have seen many patients feel better after taking them.
- McFarlin BK, Henning AL, Bowman EM, Gary MA, Carbajal KM. Oral spore-based probiotic supplementation was associated with reduced incidence of post-prandial dietary endotoxin, triglycerides, and disease risk biomarkers. World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2017;8(3):117-126. doi:10.4291/wjgp.v8.i3.117
Dr. Jones graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and with a Master of Science in Nutrition degree. She believes that the most important part of any treatment plan is first establishing a solid foundation of health. This looks different for each patient and changes over time, and Dr. Jones’ guidance on your health journey will depend on your needs.