Research & Education

Dig up the dirt on spore-based probiotics

Spore-forming probiotic bacteria have recently received an increasing amount of scientific and commercial attention for their therapeutic qualities. Spore-based probiotics are soil-based microorganisms that are formed from spores and found in dirt and vegetation. Unlike most traditional probiotics which are similar to those naturally found in the human GI tract such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, spore-based probiotics derived from Bacillus species are delivered as dormant spores. The endospores encapsulate the beneficial bacteria making them extremely stable and highly resistant to stomach acid’s low pH, resulting in the delivery of more usable probiotics to the small intestine where they then revert to active, growing bacteria.

Spore-based (or ground-based) probiotics are naturally-occurring friendly bacteria that have been shown to support health in several ways. Spore-based strains (e.g. Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus coagulans) are vital to the food chain as they have the intrinsic ability to produce a multitude of enzymes, secretory proteins, antimicrobial compounds, vitamins, and carotenoids. Throughout history, human beings have consumed spore-based probiotics through the ingestion of fermented foods and raw vegetables that are contaminated with soil microflora. For example, Bacillus species are found in naturally-fermented soy, locust bean, maize, and rice. Popular functional foods with these friendly bacteria are mostly eaten in traditional cultures such as Japanese Natto, African Gari, Indian Rabadi, and Chinese Douchi. Unfortunately, westernized cultures have shifted away from eating traditionally-fermented foods, raw vegetables grown in the soil, and plant-based whole foods diets to more calorie-rich, nutrient-poor diets, and have decreased the amount of time spent outside playing in the dirt.

Bacillus subtilis has a unique ability to form spores that protect the microbes from harsh conditions such as high temperatures, desiccation, ultra-violet and gamma radiation, and ambient humidity. This is excellent for clinical use, as these spore-forming strains are shelf-stable, do not require refrigeration, and can resist gastric hydrochloric acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile. While these spores lie dormant in the bottle, research shows that bacilli can adhere to the intestinal epithelium and revert to growing bacteria and propagate robustly once they reach their intended destination, the large intestine. 

Taxonomically, it is important to note that while both the probiotic Bacillus species (e.g., B. subtilis, B. coagulans, B. licheniformis, etc.) and the potential human pathogenic species, B. anthracis and B. cereus, fall into the same “group 1” of Bacillus clusters, they are separated into two distinct and different clans and are not the same.

Because nearly 70% of the immune system resides in the GI tract interacting with the gut microbiome, it is important to maintain optimal levels of beneficial and commensal species and keep pathogenic and unhealthy species at bay. Imbalanced gut microflora, or dysbiosis, disrupts our overall health and wellness and is associated with undesirable GI symptoms and the pathogenesis behind many gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome. In additional to traditional human-derived probiotic strains, spore-forming, soil-based probiotic supplements promote healthy digestion and bowel regularity, stimulate balance in the gut, encourage a healthy immune function, and support balanced inflammatory processes. Spore-based probiotic supplements can be used in combination with traditional human-derived probiotic supplements for enhanced benefits.