Published:
December 8, 2021
Last Updated:
December 13, 2021

Are Probiotics Worth the Hype? What You Need to Know

Our partner in health

IIN has partnered with Seed Health* ‒ a mission-driven, research-backed company that’s pioneering the applications of microbes to improve human and planetary health. Their probiotic, the DS-01TM Daily Synbiotic, is unlike other probiotics. There’s an abundance of probiotic products available today, which makes it even more confusing for consumers to figure out which ones actually do what they claim to do.

We talked with Seed Health to clear up the confusion so that you can make informed decisions for you, your family, and your clients.

What are probiotics?

The official definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

Let’s break down each part of this definition:

  • Live microorganisms: This refers to the strain or strains of beneficial bacteria that must be alive when consumed.
  • Adequate amounts: Each probiotic must be associated with an effective dosage, and this dosage is arrived at through clinical study or studies. The measurement you are probably most familiar with reading on a probiotic label is CFU, or colony forming units. This tells us how many bacteria in the sample are capable of dividing and forming colonies. AFU (active fluorescent units) is a new form of measurement, which allows for a more precise measurement of all viable cells, including those that are effective but not necessarily culturable (and would not be counted in a traditional CFU measurement).
  • Must confer a health benefit: This means that each specific strain (not just the species) must have been clinically studied and shown to be beneficial.
  • Host: That’s you!

Why are probiotics important?

There’s almost no function in the human body that microorganisms aren’t involved in. New findings emerge frequently, enriching our understanding of the microbiomes of the human body and their intimate connection to health and disease.

Many individuals equate probiotics with gut health. But we know that this is a narrow view of the potential of probiotic applications. The body’s systems are complex and interconnected, and the gut sits at the core of it all. The health of your GI tract influences everything from immune function to cardiovascular and skin health. Thus, oral probiotics have the capacity to impart local digestive benefits while also having powerful effects across the entire body. 

Why is probiotic the marketing buzzword right now?

Just like with any diet or nutrition-related buzzword, people learn to equate probiotic with healthy and start looking for it everywhere ‒ not just in food items but also in beauty and self-care products (as if it were that simple)!

While the definition of a probiotic is regulated, the marketing of such is unfortunately not, which means you’ll see brands trying to pass off their sugar- and chemical-laden products as beneficial for your health. If you see “probiotic” plastered on the side of a product, practice vigilance. Inspect the label and the company’s website in order to evaluate the science behind the claim.

How do probiotics work?

Contrary to popular belief, probiotics typically don’t take up residence in your gut. Compared to the trillions of microbes already living in your intestinal tract, most probiotics don’t contain enough new bacteria to make a significant difference in the composition of your microbiota.

What scientists do know is that probiotics travel through your colon as transient microbes, interacting with your existing bacteria, gut cells, immune cells, and dietary nutrients to deliver benefits both directly and indirectly.

Sarah Lebeer, PhD, professor of applied microbiology and biotechnology at the University of Antwerp, shared in a recent lecture that probiotics can have five main modes of action:

  1. Interact with existing microbiome: Probiotics can regulate the composition and activity of resident microbes by inhibiting potential pathogens as well as stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria as an extra defense against pathogens. Probiotics can also affect digestive capacity and stool consistency and frequency.
  2. Enhance gut-barrier function: Probiotics can stimulate the intestinal epithelial barrier (cell wall) function and prevent pathogens or inflammatory compounds from crossing the gut barrier, which can lead to inflammation or illness.
  3. Fine-tune immune response: Probiotics can balance and improve local and systemic immune responses by interacting with specific receptors and modulating certain pathways and cells of the immune system.
  4. Initiate important metabolic functions: Probiotics can produce vitamins, amino acids, or enzymes (such as lactase and bile salt hydrolases) that have beneficial impacts on metabolic health, from cholesterol levels to blood sugar balance.
  5. Impact neurological function: Probiotics can modulate neurologic functions via the gut-brain axis because they can produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), both of which have a tremendous impact on mental and emotional health.

What strains are important to look for in a probiotic? Does this differ from person to person?

As mentioned, strain specificity is critical. Within each species of bacteria, there can be hundreds or thousands of strains. Think about it like this: Golden retrievers, French bulldogs, and wolves all fall under the Canis lupus familiaris species, yet they’re all incredibly different. Strains of bacteria, even if belonging to the same species, can be as different as night and day.

The details of strains matter, and it’s important to select the most appropriate strain for each application, from digestive dysfunction to skin breakouts. It’s necessary to look for strains that have been clinically studied to demonstrate a health benefit, in or on the body, and are included in the probiotic product in the clinically relevant doses.

In essence, it’s important to know that what you’re taking has been studied in humans, not only to prove a beneficial effect but also to ensure its safety. Depending on the health goals of each individual, products/strains will vary, though that doesn’t mean you need a personalized probiotic.

In 2012, after five years of research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that “there’s no universally healthy microbiome” but that there is indeed benefit to consuming specific strains that have been demonstrated to confer a health benefit to the host.

The findings also revealed that the metabolic function of our microbiome is much more important than which microbial species are present. In other words, what your bacteria are *doing* is much more important than who they *are*.

Scientific studies of probiotics today look at specific strains of beneficial bacteria that have demonstrated a health benefit in humans, independent of an individual's starting microbiome.

What are the biggest myths surrounding probiotics that you aim to dispel?

One of the biggest myths is that you’re getting probiotics, as they are defined, from fermented foods. While it’s certainly possible for fermented foods to be probiotic, many fall short of meeting the internationally recognized scientific criteria. However, your favorite fermented snacks, like kombucha or yogurt, can provide benefits to your health if you stay away from added sugar ‒ which, sadly, negates many of these benefits.

Let’s look at traditional sauerkraut as an example. It might include multiple strains of the bacterial species L. plantarum, but without strain specificity or dosage, these microbes technically cannot be categorized as probiotics.

If, however, the sauerkraut contained the known probiotic strain L. plantarum 299V (299V being the strain designation), at the correct dosage and alive at the time of consumption, the sauerkraut could potentially qualify as a probiotic fermented food.

We’ve talked about probiotics, but you offer a synbiotic. What’s a synbiotic?

Dr. Lebeer shares the definition of synbiotics, as defined by the International Scientific Association on Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP): “A mixture, comprising live microorganisms and substrates selectively utilized by host microorganisms, that confers a health benefit on the host.” In simplest terms, a synbiotic can be defined as a mixture of a prebiotic and a probiotic.

What’s interesting is that this definition allows for establishing synbiotics in humans as well as pets and even agricultural animals as the use of probiotics and prebiotics continues to be further explored.

What sets Seed’s DS-01 Daily Synbiotic apart from other products on the market?

In a novel dual encapsulation technology, the DS-01 Daily Synbiotic delivers 24 broad-spectrum probiotic strains and a new class of nonfermentive prebiotics isolated from Indian pomegranate.

The strains included in the DS-01 Daily Synbiotic support multiple markers of digestive health, including bowel movement regularity, stool consistency, ease of expulsion, transit time, and occasional bloating. While digestive health was certainly top of mind in formulating the Daily Synbiotic, our product takes a systemic approach, with clinically and scientifically studied strain-specific benefits beyond the gastrointestinal system ‒ including cardiovascular health, micronutrient synthesis, and dermatological health.

The punicalagins included in the DS-01 are a novel class of nonfermenting, plant-based prebiotics. Punicalagins are biotransformed by gut bacteria into beneficial metabolites for the body. 

We’re also committed to the highest global regulatory standards and quality adherence and rigorously test beyond what’s required. 

We conduct an extensive battery of tests on our Daily Synbiotic throughout each step of the manufacturing process as well as on the final product. This includes whole-genome sequencing on our strains; flow cytometry, to measure viable cells; survivability testing, to ensure that our probiotics survive the trip through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract to your colon; heat and humidity testing; to mimic the most extreme conditions our product may encounter during shipping; and more than 50 quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) checkpoints.

The final product is tested for mycotoxins, 420 different pesticides (including glyphosate), and common allergens. Our probiotic strains have GRAS (generally recognized as safe) and QPS (qualified presumption of safety) status, which designates them as safe for consumption in the United States and European Union, respectively. 

 

Why doesn’t Seed’s DS-01 need to be refrigerated, like many other probiotics?

Whether a probiotic is refrigerated or shelf stable, it undergoes a process called lyophilization (freeze-drying), an excellent method of preserving a wide variety of heat-sensitive materials, including probiotics. This means that the probiotic organisms enter into an inert state until they come in contact with water, when they rehydrate to become active. Contrary to other perishable food products, refrigeration doesn’t mean freshness or superiority for bacteria. In fact, if a probiotic does not survive at ambient temperature outside the refrigerator, it can reflect weak stability of the product, low viable organism count, or inadequate overages in formulation.

The more important thing to look for is delivery technologies and testing that enable superior shelf stability and demonstrated survivability through all stages of digestion.

Our patented capsule-in-capsule delivery system, the ViaCap, nests an inner probiotic capsule inside an outer prebiotic capsule, engineered to deliver an average of 100% of the probiotic starting dose through the end of the small intestine for complete delivery to the colon. In addition, Seed’s ViaCap system provides exceptional shelf stability, ensuring potency for 18 months. With no refrigeration required, it makes storing and traveling with your probiotic much easier and more accessible than for other probiotics on the market.

Seed Health is big on science and making sure that claims are backed by sound research. What research studies are currently underway that are analyzing the effectiveness of DS-01?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized an Investigational New Drug (IND) application for the DS-01, which will “investigate the role of the gut microbiome in patients with IBS as well as the impact of DS-01 on both intestinal cells and on the release of metabolites (the products of metabolism) from gut microbes native to the patient.... Seed [is] at the forefront of research into the relationship between the microbiome and IBS... Very few previous studies have looked at how synbiotics (combinations of prebiotics and probiotics, like DS-01) affect the microbial communities of individuals with IBS.”

Further, there’s important work happening to close the gap in gender research data, particularly in the field of research into the human microbiome. We know that the microbiome is primarily derived through maternal inheritance. This means that your first microbes—the ones that form the foundation of your immune and gastrointestinal systems—come from your biological mother, and her mother before her (and on and on). It is impossible to understand the microbiome, then, without understanding the female body and experience. This has profound implications for the future of health care and for scientific research in general.

At IIN, we train Health Coaches to support clients in making informed decisions about their health, without prescribing any protocol. How would you recommend IIN Health Coaches talk to their clients about probiotics and Seed’s DS-01 in particular?

This is a great and important question. Health Coaches have tremendous responsibility to provide their clients with sound information while also letting them determine what’s best for them without undue influence.

Sharing this blog post with clients is a great first step, so they can learn what probiotics are (and aren’t) and how they work as well as get insight into critical research. Many people have found success with daily use of DS-01 Daily Synbiotic, which you can find in IIN’s Campus Store*, but ultimately it will be up to a client to discuss their specific needs with their doctor before starting any new supplement regimen.

Empowering people to understand what they’re putting into their bodies is key, and it sets the foundation for well-being. Health Coaches who keep this in mind are already doing their clients a tremendous service.

So, are probiotics worth the hype?

Now that you've learned more about what probiotics are and how they can address many areas of your health, try for yourself with Seed! Check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

 

*The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) is partnered with Seed Health, and we will earn affiliate commission on any Seed purchases made directly through our affiliate link.

Author Biography
Nina Zorfass
,
IIN Content Writer

Nina holds a bachelor’s in dietetics, nutrition, and food sciences from the University of Vermont, is a graduate of IIN’s Health Coach Training Program, and is an NASM-Certified Personal Trainer.

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