By Andrea Wien
By now, you’re probably familiar with probiotics. You can find these gut-supporting strains of bacteria and yeast in everyday foods, or you can get them through supplement. However you take them, probiotics have been linked to better digestive health, among other things. But did you know that there are different kinds of probiotics? Here, we take a look at the three main types of probiotics and the benefits and challenges of each.
1. Lactic Acid Probiotics
Lactic-acid producing probiotics include well-known bacteria strains such as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. The latter is the most common strain found in fermented foods, like yogurt.
“These bacteria produce lactic acid by eating lactose, sugar, and carbohydrates,” says Sophie Bibbs, a digestive health coach. The process of fermentation “lowers the pH of the gut and, therefore, limits the growth of pathogens and Candida.”
The probalem with lactic acid strains of probiotics is that they contain are highly sensitive to light and heat. Manufacturers have gone to great precautions to protect the strains, through refrigeration and dark glass, for example. But, your stomach acid may kill many of these probiotic bugs before they have a chance to reach their target.
Another challenge? Lactic acid bacteria are also transient, meaning they don’t hang around in your gut. Instead, they move through quickly, doing their work as they pass.
2. Soil-Based Probiotics
Soil-based probiotics, or SBOs, are naturally found in the dirt. “These bacteria have always been on our food, so we would naturally consume them and they’d help enhance our immune systems,” says Bibbs.
Today, however, few of us are harvesting our own food from the ground. Even fewer are eating foods without washing away the dirt. Together, these factors have dramatically decreased the number of soil-based probiotics we ingest. Proponents of soil-based probiotics point to this as one of the main reasons we’re experiencing such collective digestive distress.
Most SBOs have evolved over thousands of years so they’re sturdier than lactic acid probiotics. And, while some soil-based probiotics are transitory (like lactic acid probiotics), others have the ability to colonize.
3. Spore probiotics
Spore probiotics are highly-resilient, colonizing bacteria. “They can even resist antibiotics, whereas other types will likely be killed,” says Bibbs. “They can also remain dormant in the gut for a long time, and then revive themselves when nutrients are present.”
This resiliency and colonization sounds like a good thing — and it is. But it’s also one of the reasons that critics hesitate to recommend them. Spore probiotics can be highly opportunistic, especially in the guts of people who are immunocompromised. When our microbiomes aren’t strong and thriving, introducing foreign strains that aren’t transient can cause serious issues.
This doesn’t mean that spore probiotics aren’t useful, just that we need to be careful about how we’re taking them. Look for well-studied strains, including bacillus coagulans, bacillus subtilis and bacillus clausii. They appear to be safe and well-tolerated with no adverse effects in most humans. It’s also advisable to take them with food.