Probiotics and Sporebiotics: What's the difference?


Our health starts in our gut. Anxiety, depression, digestive issues, diabetes, and cancer are just some of the conditions and diseases associated with an imbalance in the gut microbiota, or the trillions of microorganisms living throughout our digestive tract. With gut health in the spotlight, many have turned to probiotics and more recently, sporebiotics, to support a healthy gut microbiota.

What are probiotics?


Probiotics have become quite the buzzword. If you ever had food poisoning, the stomach flu, diarrhea, or taken antibiotics, you might have been told to take probiotics to repopulate your gut (aka the large intestine or colon). Why? Well, when you take antibiotics, a significant proportion of friendly bacteria are killed in the gut, making it more likely for potentially pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria to thrive. So, taking probiotics after a round of antibiotics may help re-balance your gut microbiota.


Simply put, probiotics are live microorganisms that may have health benefits when consumed consistently and in adequate doses. Studies have shown that probiotics may positively impact the gut microbiota, improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and be an appropriate treatment for periodontal disease. Even though there has been a dramatic increase in research on probiotics and their impact on various health conditions, more studies are needed to evaluate their efficacy and health benefits.


It's important to mention that probiotics will only show benefit if they are able to first survive the acidic environment and digestive enzymes of the stomach (which can easily kill these beneficial bacteria), reach the small intestine, and then successfully colonize the gut. While more research is needed, it appears that many probiotics on the market do not survive the stomach's acidity and reach the large intestine alive. This isn't to say that probiotics are ineffective - many individuals report feeling better after taking them and experience improvement in their symptoms.


Where are probiotics found and how long does it take for them to work?


In addition to being found in supplements, probiotics can be found in fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt and kefir. If you take a probiotic supplement, it typically contains bacteria that belong to the groups Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Many supplements, often called broad-spectrum probiotics or multi-probiotics, contain different species in a single product.


How long does it take for probiotics to work? It depends...you should expect to see improvements in symptoms anywhere from a fews days to several months depending on the reason for taking probiotics. With this being said, some individuals may not observe benefits - this may be due to genetics, health status, age, incorrect dose or strain, inappropriate storage of probiotic, or poor supplement quality.


If you want to make sure that your probiotics are safely reaching their final destination, be sure to choose a reliable supplement backed by clinical studies performed on human participants. Studies have found that strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are able to survive stomach acid and bile salts, a component of bile which is synthesized in the liver to help your body digest and absorb dietary fat. Also, some companies have introduced an enteric coating on the supplement's capsule to protect the bacteria from the hostile environment of the stomach, making it more likely that the bacteria will reach your intestinal tract.



When should probiotics be taken?


It depends. Some supplement brands recommend taking your probiotic supplement in the morning on an empty stomach while others advise taking it with food. Be sure to check out the label for instructions.



What are sporebiotics?


Enter sporebiotics. Sporebiotics are a soil-based probiotic, meaning they consist of bacteria (typically Bacillus, rather than lactobacillus or bifidobacterium), which are natively found in our soil. These strains of bacteria found in nature, on fruits, roots, and tubers were consumed by our ancestors and functioned as the "original" probiotic (pretty cool, right?). Sporebiotic supplements are usually a blend of Bacillus spores, structures that are highly resistant in harsh environments (like the stomach) thanks to a natural protein shell and active in favorable environments (like the large intestine). Their innate seed-like shape also makes them more resistant to stomach acid, bile acids, and digestive enzymes which seem to destroy the bacteria found in typical probiotics. Unlike most probiotics, sporebiotics reach the large intestine 100% alive, where they transform into their active form and begin colonizing the gut.


While probiotics are meant to re-colonize the gut, meaning they multiply and form a stable, replicating population, sporebiotics recondition the gut by increasing microbial diversity and promoting the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the gut. Sporebiotics stay in the gut for about 21-28 days where they use quorum sensing to read the microbial environment of the gut, scanning for pathogenic bacteria and beneficial bacteria. Amazingly, they can both target and kill harmful gut bacteria and produce metabolites that encourage the re-growth of helpful bacteria. After 21-28 days, the bacterial spores leave the body through your poop and transition back to their dormant state, ready to be used again (how incredible is mother nature?).


On the labels of most probiotic supplements, you'll read "keep refrigerated". Sporebiotics are unique because they do not require refrigeration; they're shelf-stable!


If you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, commonly known as SIBO, a soil-based probiotic may be more appropriate than a typical probiotic because it doesn't colonize the small intestine and remains in its dormant spore state until it reaches the large intestine. Since sporebiotics don't feed resident small intestinal bacteria, SIBO symptoms will not be exacerbated.


We highly recommend consulting with a medical professional or dietitian to figure out whether a probiotic or sporebiotic is appropriate for you.



When should sporebiotics be taken?


It is recommended to take your sporebiotic supplement with food, which helps support germination in the intestinal tract.



References


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Corcoran, B. M., Stanton, C., Fitzgerald, G. F., & Ross, R. P. (2005). Survival of probiotic lactobacilli in acidic environments is enhanced in the presence of metabolizable sugars. Applied and environmental microbiology, 71(6), 3060–3067. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.71.6.3060-3067.2005


Ford AC, Quigley EM, Lacy BE, Lembo AJ, Saito YA, Schiller LR, Soffer EE, Spiegel BM, Moayyedi P. Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014 Oct;109(10):1547-61; quiz 1546, 1562. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2014.202. Epub 2014 Jul 29. PMID: 25070051.

Just Thrive Probiotic & Antioxidant. Just Thrive. (n.d.). https://justthrivehealth.com/.

Marco, Maria (2019, August 20). Is probiotic colonization essential? International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). https://isappscience.org/is-probiotic-colonization-essential/.

MegaSporeBiotic™: #1 Spore-Based Probiotic and Antioxidant. Microbiome Labs. (2021, January 13). https://microbiomelabs.com/home/products/megasporebiotic/.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Probiotics: What You Need To Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know.