spore based probiotics vs. regular probiotics

Oh yes I am digging deeper into the world of probiotics!

What makes spore-biotics different from conventional probiotics, and which is more effective? What are the relative benefits and challenges of each form of supplemental probiotics?

You may have noticed that there is a lot of buzz about probiotics these days. Health food stores have entire shelves and refrigerated sections dedicated to these happy little bugs, and more food products boast of their probiotic content. Kombucha has all but exploded in the past decade, and yogurt made of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and the various alternative “milks” (coconut, almond, hemp, etc.) is ubiquitous. People post videos about making their own sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi, all in pursuit of these beneficial bacteria.

Why do probiotics matter

My article from April 30th goes into much greater depth about the benefits of probiotics – research has linked gut flora to many different body systems: genitourinary, skin (integumentary), cardiovascular, neurological, and of course, gastrointestinal. Changes in gut bacteria have been studied to affect conditions like diabetes, cancer, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. This explosion in research has led to the probiotic craze we see in health-food stores. My previous article dives into the supplement and food forms of these good bugs, but what about the many different forms of supplements?

Are spore probiotics better?

Is there a difference between types of probiotics

You may have noticed that a lot of the available probiotics require refrigeration. This is because bacteria are living organisms that may be destroyed by heat. Remember that there are hundreds of strains of probiotics – some can be freeze-dried and made to be shelf-stable, some do not survive this process, others are dormant in a “spore form,” and still others cannot be commercially grown and encapsulated at all. This is where variety is helpful, and also, getting good bugs from fermented and organically grown foods is a good idea. The main criticism of refrigerated probiotics is that the stomach is at or above body temperature. Between 99 and 100 degrees F. When we are eating, and stomach acid is produced, the stomach becomes hundreds of times more acidic, which is why many probiotics are labeled to be taken away from food. Given the above information, you may be asking yourself: do refrigerated probiotics have any benefit? Generally speaking, yes, with some caveats. Make sure you are storing the probiotic properly – if it says to keep refrigerated, then do so right away and try not to leave the supplement sitting out for any period of time. Make sure to pay attention to the “use by” date because the organisms may have significant die-off after that point. Finally, look at the number of bugs in your supplements. Probiotics may range from 1 billion CFU (colony-forming units) up to about 50 billion CFUs. The more good bugs you start with, the more are likely to survive to reach the colon. Some are expected to die in the stomach but taking these supplements away from food will generally mitigate this. Finally, some promising research shows that even if 100% of the beneficial bacteria were to die in transit (which is unlikely), the by-products reaching the large intestine could still positively affect health.

What is the deal with spore-biotics

Spore-form probiotics are typically Bacillus species bacteria that have a dormancy period where they are spores. The analogy I use with patients is that spore-biotics are like eating a seed instead of eating the plant. Spores survive the heat and acidity of the stomach and “sprout” or start producing active bacterial colonies once they reach the hospitable environment in the large intestine. Our colon is where probiotics are meant to live anyway. Scientific research has generally shown that the greatest benefit to spore-form probiotics is their superior ability to survive gut transit and effectively colonize the large intestine. For this reason, many spore-biotics only contain 1-5 billion CFUs as opposed to 25-50 billion CFUs in refrigerated probiotics.

A refrigerated probiotic still needs to be evaluated based on number and variety of organisms, additives and the reputation of the company. It can also be harder to remember to take these probiotics as they are out of sight. For those of you like me who pre-package your vitamins for the week, you have to remember to take these separately and they are much harder to travel with. As with any supplement, make sure the company is following strict manufacturing guidelines to check for quality, potency and contamination. A bonus to look for is companies who support independent research investigating the effectiveness and survival rates of consumed probiotics.

Both refrigerated and spore-form probiotics can be beneficial for health. Only certain bacterial species can be made into a spore-biotic, so it is a good conversation to have with your natural healthcare provider about the specific health goals you are trying to address with probiotics. And one of my favorite reminders to my patients is that supplements are supplemental to other positive choices and lifestyle changes. You cannot supplement your way out of a bad lifestyle, but supplements can be part of the solution to achieving great health. Don’t forget about getting good bugs from fresh fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, and eating a high-fiber diet to support diversity in gut flora.

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Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
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