Have you noticed that probiotics are popping up everywhere? And it’s not just in the form of supplements anymore, suddenly they’re in coffee pods, granola bars, cleaning products, and even Fido’s dry dog food? If you’ve been following along with our blogs here at Natren, you know that we are pretty adamant about how we handle our products -- being careful to ship our probiotics in thermally-controlled boxes with gel-ice packs and even dry ice in the summertime. Why? Because they are living microorganisms that can be damaged by overexposure to light, heat, and moisture. If you’re new to Natren and want to learn more about the proper handling of probiotics check out some of our previous blogs:
These supposedly shelf-stable products and foods with probiotics added to them should raise some red flags, for starters, how are the living microorganisms surviving in them? Surely these products spend a significant amount of time being stored, transported in hot trucks or shipping containers and then even more time sitting on the shelf waiting to be purchased -- are the microorganisms still alive once the consumer purchases them?
The answer, unfortunately, isn’t straightforward and ultimately depends on the individual product, but we would like to help educate our customers on some of the tricks we have seen in the industry.
Read the fine print. There are hundreds of products out there with fine print that reads something like this, “Potency guaranteed at the time of manufacture.” That is if they mention potency at all. At Natren we guarantee the potency to the expiration date listed on each bottle, not just at the time it leaves our manufacturing facility.
Additionally, we guarantee the potency of each strain, not just an overall combined cell count for the whole product. This means, if you are purchasing our Healthy Trinity probiotic that contains three individual strains, you are guaranteed that each strain is present with the cell counts (colony forming units - CFUs) listed on the label to the expiration date. We doubt that the “probiotic” coffee pods, granola bars or cleaning products can make the same claims and stand by them.
The vast majority of probiotics on the market, for human and animal consumption, are made with a few key types of bacteria - Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species. However, when it comes to shelf-stable products we suddenly see the introduction of a different type of bacteria. These “unconventional” bacteria are unique in that they form spores, also called endospores.
A spore is a dormant or vegetative form of bacteria. Since they are dormant they are highly resistant to just about anything thrown at them both physically and chemically, which makes them ideal for manufacturing, shipping, and storage! In fact, studies have shown that they can survive extreme levels of heating, freezing, drying and even radiation -- so refrigerated storage is not required! How convenient! But wait, if a spore is an inactive vegetative bacteria -- does it do anything useful? Probably not. And what does it take to “wake it up” or reactivate it so that it can work as a probiotic should? We don’t really know exactly what reactivation requires. There are reports of spores remaining viable over 10,000 years, and one group of scientists even claim to have revived bacterial spores found in 25-to 40-million-year-old amber. But keep in mind, they are not doing anything useful when in this dormant form.
Surprisingly, one company that uses this type of bacteria published a study showing that less than 10% of their spores germinated into an active (and therefore useful) form! Spore forming bacteria are convenient to the manufacture -- they no longer have to worry about producing, storing and shipping a cold product. But, we are left to wonder if there is any benefit for you, the end-user! These organisms added to food and drinks may provide no benefit and can even be dangerous. We have noticed a large percentage of Kombucha drink manufacturers are now adding these spore-forming bacteria to their drinks too, check your labels for species such as Bacillus coagulans before you sip! It is definitely not the same as drinking traditional kombucha in the way our ancestors may have.
A recent study in Poland looked at 14 commercially available cleaning products labeled or described as containing a probiotic. They found that, “...in the most part they rely on spore-forming species.” Again, the question we must ask is how does this benefit the end-user if the bacteria are in a dormant form? Most likely, there’s little to no benefit to the end-user, it’s simply a marketing “trick” that allows a company to label a product as if it’s a “probiotic cleanser”.
The research team went on to say, “... some of the listed species may become opportunistic pathogens, this raises an important question concerning general safety of probiotics.” Why would anyone want to use a product to clean with that might just be spreading pathogenic bacteria? Yikes! There remains quite a bit of controversy regarding the safety of certain strains, like Bacillus species, yet manufacturers have been quick to jump into using these bacteria simply for the ease of manufacturing products with them.
There are so many well studied, clinically trialed probiotic strains that are commonly found in the human gastrointestinal tract, that there is simply no need to mess around with these unconventional and controversial products. At Natren, we take probiotic safety and manufacturing very seriously. Our strains are tried and true, backed by numerous scientific studies both in the lab and in human clinical trials. We are commited to quality and providing you with the best probiotics in the world.
Want to learn more? Stay tuned as we will dive in deeper into the “Kombucha Kraze” in our next blog!