BUSTED: Probiotic Myths & Truths–Have You Been Duped?

Probiotics are everywhere nowadays. And it understandable why–one of the most important discoveries of our generation is the human microbiome, a network of trillions of bacteria that are contained within our body. And this network of bacteria within our body is massive.  We are actually more bacterial DNA than human DNA. It’s estimated there are 39 trillion bacterial cells and about 30 trillion human cells inside your body at any given moment give or take the seasons. And through the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project much has been discovered that we didn’t know before about how your gut affects your overall health. For instance, your gut has the ability to affect your mood, regulate your immune system, support your metabolism, help you sleep as well as being linked to things like brain diseases, IBS, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. But as we are learning about the human microbiome, there have been several myths and mistruths created in order to sell products to improve your health. Are you curious in finding out if you’ve been duped? You’ve trusted us with myriads of investigations including one on chemicals that lead to obesity, now discover the top 8 myths about probiotics.


Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Just Thrive Probiotics. Just Thrive sponsors ShiftCon Social Media Conference, an event we produce. However, we have not received financial compensation for this post. My family has been testing out this probiotic for months and we have been very impressed and we were given a lifetime supply of probiotics. Our happy guts thank you guys!

Myth # 1: A probiotic needs to be refrigerated to be a “good” probiotic

False. Though it’s common to find probiotics in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, refrigeration is not an indication of a good quality probiotic. In fact, it’s actually a sign of a very weak probiotic. If your probiotic cannot survive at room temperature without falling to pieces, then how do you think it will survive in your 98-degree body, much less through your harsh, extremely acidic digestive tract? Short answer: it won’t. The first important feature of a probiotic is that it is proven to survive passage through the stomach acid and the small intestine to get to the site of action. If it arrives to the site of action dead, it’s not a true probiotic.

To know if your probiotic is better, It should be obvious that the probiotic has been tested for stomach (gastric) survival. For example, spore based bacteria have an armor like shell around themselves to naturally survive the stomach acid and make it to the intestines alive. They get to the site of action alive and viable 100% of the time and can go to work for you fixing your gut.

So look for a probiotic that focuses on spores.

probiotics myths and truths
Myth # 2 What you see on the label is what you get in the capsule

Not necessarily. A study University of California San Diego found that only 1 in 16 bottles of probiotics actually contained the strains and the potency listed on the label. Think about that, 15 out of 16 products tested had different bacteria in the capsule than what was claimed on the label. That means you have no idea what kind of bacteria you are putting into your body and the companies making the product have no idea what bacteria they are working with. I’m a mom of a child with food allergies and that is a very frightening proposition. Unless the company producing your probiotics conducts DNA verification on their product after manufacturing, there is no guarantee that you will receive the strains listed on the label.

So look for products that call out DNA verified.

probiotic myths and truths
Myth #3 You need a probiotic with at least 15 different strains

Absolutely false. Most probiotic studies are done with a single strain and there has never been a study that shows that more is better. With probiotics the quality of the strain is far more important than quantity. You are better off using a product with 3-4 strains where the synergy of the formula has been tested and verified than a product with 15-20 strains in it.

When companies throw together these “kitchen sink“ type of formulations with dozens of strains, they often have to use cheaper and lower quality strains to keep costs down. In addition, these are bacteria – they have no idea if these cocktails will be synergistic or if the bacteria will actually compete with one another. So don’t be fooled by inflated labels that have dozens of stains, look for products that can speak to studies showing synergy in their formulations.

Therefore look for probiotics with valid studies attached to it.

probiotics myths and truths
Myth #4. You need to rotate your probiotics to create diversity and maintain efficacy

False. The idea of rotating probiotics originated from the realization that many probiotics stop working after a month or two of use – the reason being that most probiotics are too weak to cause any lasting change in the gut. Instead of trying to “surprise” the gut with a new probiotic cocktail every month, you’re much better off finding an effective probiotic and sticking with it.

A truly effective probiotic will not stop working after 1-2 months of taking it. As an example, known protective probiotics like bacillus spores will continue to protect your gut from daily assaults as you keep taking them. Their effect doesn’t go away after taking them for 1-2 months.

Probiotics myths and truths
Myth #5 . A probiotic should be enteric coated or in a special capsule.

This is simply marketing. While enteric-coating capsules can certainly improve the chances that they’ll survive through stomach acid and make it into the small intestines, the probiotic’s journey is not yet complete. Once in the small intestine it still has to face bile salts and pancreatic enzymes that kill off bacteria. They still will not make it through the 22+ feet of small intestine to get to the large intestine where they are supposed to function. If your probiotic needs a special enteric coating, special capsule, seaweed coating or some other technology in order to survive digestion, then it will most likely be too weak to colonize in the gut – a/k/a compete with the other 80 trillion bacteria already residing in your gut.

A better approach is to find a probiotic that naturally survives the gastric system, not one that has to be engineered to survive the stomach.

probiotics myths and truths

Myth #6 . You don’t need to take a probiotic if you eat fermented foods

False. Although fermented foods can be excellent prebiotics and can provide nutritious, predigested food that feeds your gut bacteria, they don’t create lasting ecological change in the gut and do not deliver living probiotic cells to the large intestine. If you can tolerate fermented foods, they are a great source of nutrients and should be consumed, assuming they aren’t yogurts and drinks loaded with sugar. They do not however, replace an effective, gastric surviving, DNA verified probiotic.

probiotics myths and truths

 

Myth #7 You should take your probiotic on an empty stomach.

False. An effective probiotic will want to feed as soon as it arrives in the large intestine. Taking your probiotic with meals can provide immediate carbon sources (food) for your probiotics, allowing them to jump into action as soon as they arrive in the gut. Many probiotic suggest taking it on an empty stomach so that the pH of the stomach is higher which would increase the likelihood of survival through the gastric system. A probiotic with an endospore shell around it can survive the low pH and will then use the food to germinate throughout the intestines. In addition, an effective probiotic will help you digest your food so you can gain the nutrition from your meal.

Our ancestors got loads of natural bacteria with their food as they ate unsterilized, natural food that was teaming with microbes. They counted on the microbes to actually help them break down the food and increase absorption of nutrients. A good probiotic will also reduce gas with the break down of food and help the bowels move along to maintain regularity. Keep in mind that our ancestors did not go and look for little clumps of bacteria consume in between their meals.

probiotics myths and truths

Myth #8 A probiotic with 50 billion cells is better than 4 billion cells

FALSE. Though our society is conditioned to think that MORE is always better, this is not necessarily true. Having 50 billion CFUs in your probiotic is only helpful if you can confirm that 50 billion CFUs are surviving your digestive tract. Unfortunately, survivability studies with some of the leading probiotics (as high as 250 billion CFUs) indicate that 99% of the strains cannot survive digestion. This shocking finding suggests that most people are paying for products with less than 1% survivability. It’s no wonder that many people find common probiotics ineffective!

Most probiotics that you’ll find in the store contain some combination of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacter. While these are some of the good bacteria that reside in our gut, they are very poor stomach survivors and gut colonizers. Companies have tried increasing their dosages 10-fold, protecting them in enteric-coated capsules, and storing them in cooler temperatures to improve survivability, but the end result is the same: dead probiotics.

 

The Good News About Probiotics

There’s another group of probiotics, known as Bacillus spore formers. This group of bacteria also naturally resides in the gut and protects us from disease, but we can no longer get them from our food supply because our food supply is now sterilized. Bacillus probiotics have the ability to form protective outer shells, known as endospores, that can shield them from high temperatures, pressure, UV light, acid, dehydration, and lack of oxygen. Because of this feature, Bacillus probiotics are uniquely designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the digestive tract, but that’s not all!

Bacillus probiotics have also been shown to control unwanted gut infections, heal leaky gut (yes, that’s a thing!), tutor the immune system, and increase microbial diversity in the gut by producing their own prebiotics. If you’re tired of taking a probiotic that doesn’t work, give Bacillus probiotics a shot! They will keep working for a month after you stop taking them, so if you forget a couple doses or run out prematurely, there’s no need to panic. Bacillus probiotics will keep working because they are true and effective probiotics.

probiotics myths and truths

Just Thrive Probiotic is the only 100% spore forming bacillus probiotic and antioxidant available in the retail market. Just Thrive is pharmaceutical grade and DNA verified by an independent 3rd party lab. After testing out this product for several months, I feel confident to recommend it to your family as well. Right now it’s my favorite probiotic.

Some Additional Microbiome Resources

I wanted to also direct your attention to a couple of additional resources you can use to improve your health. There are several laboratory tests out that analyze your stool and gives you actionable information on how to improve your health. Here are two that I’ve found very useful:

  • Ubiome–uBiome’s SmartGut™ is the world’s first sequencing-based clinical microbiome screening test, providing detailed and accurate information to help you understand your gut health.
  • Day Two–Discover which foods help balance your blood sugar based on your gut microbiome

Let me know if you have tried Just Thrive or any of these microbiome tests before and what you think in the comments. And also please let me know if there are any other probiotics you like as well or have additional suggestions.

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Leah Segedie

Leah Segedie

Founder at Mamavation
Leah Segedie is the founder of the Mamavation® community, ShiftCon Social Media Conference, food activist and social media consultant. Through the Mamavation community, she teaches “digital moms” healthy living practices to combat disease in their home. Leah is also a very passionate food activist. She organizes trending twitter parties to educate the public about the food supply and other issues impacting public health. She also organizes blogging efforts through her network and hosts the ShiftCon Social Media Conference where green and wellness bloggers gather annually. And brands love to work with Leah because she has over 10,000 bloggers in the Bookieboo Network to create wellness related campaigns with.
Leah Segedie
2017-10-16T17:39:53-04:00 October 12th, 2017|Featured, Health|7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Alison Palmer October 17, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Thanks for all the great info. I recently began taking a probiotic and I must say that it has made me feel better.

  2. Sarah Stickeler October 15, 2017 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    I come from a marketing research background and it appears to me that the way you have included the image of the product “Thrive” seems like an advertisement which lessens the credibility of your post. Are you receiving advertising revenue from the makers of Thrive?

    I used to really like the apparent objectivity of this blog and often referred clients to it, but lately it has become so obviously sales oriented with promotional material (books, events and products), I don’t really trust it anymore. It gives me the impression that you have either “sold out” to the god of revenue, or need a new marketing manager.

    • Leah Segedie October 16, 2017 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Hey Sarah! Not sure if you noticed but there is a disclosure right after the 1st paragraph of this post. I didn’t receive financial compensation for this post but we have worked with Just Thrive in the past with a media event that I produce every year. We have tons of scientific advisors for Mamavation and Kiran is one of them. It’s nice to have access to a microbiologist that focuses on the microbiome and all the complications around that issue. Just Thrive has given me boxes of free probiotics to test out and I have with myself, my three young boys, and husband. But to be quite honest, I have received free probiotics from about 10 different brands. I don’t work with everyone that sends me product because I have to like what they have given me and trust it with my own family. We have tried out other brands in the past and weren’t as impressed at all. When I write about a probiotic can stop working about a month later, that’s what I meant. Whether you purchase Just Thrive or another probiotic is up to you, but the two main things I’m recommending is 1. using spore technology and 2. finding a brand that is DNA certified so you know what you are getting.

      Also, if you are an MLM person, note that I didn’t evaluate any MLM brands. This was only from retail brands. So if you know of an MLM brand that has those two things going for them, I’d love to hear about it. My apprehension is always can they prove what they are saying.

  3. TWS October 15, 2017 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Very interesting information to look into further, thank you for posting.

    • Leah Segedie October 16, 2017 at 6:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Rebecca October 15, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    I would like you to cite the source for your claim that fermented foods offer only prebiotics, not probiotics. I have read studies that show that fermented foods such as sauerkraut and raw milk kefir, offer tons times more probiotics than any pill on the market. I am unsure why you didn’t cite your sources in this article.

    • Rachel Ramey October 16, 2017 at 6:43 pm - Reply

      I agree. Fermented foods, as I understand it, are more beneficial than most commercial probiotics precisely because they provide probiotics — with great diversity and with strains that colonize the gut rather than simply passing through. Most probiotics (even pretty good ones) have to be taken in perpetuity to be beneficial because they don’t cause any lasting change in the gut. Since the claim in this post contradicts everything I’ve ever read, a source would have been useful. Although I agree with most of your other points, that really does make your post read like an advertisement.

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