Do your probiotics wear hockey masks? How about knee-pads all wrapped up in a hard enteric coating? If you’re taking a probiotic supplement now, there’s about a 99% chance that your good guys need protective gear for a walk in the park. Today, I’m going to introduce you to the Chuck Norris of probiotics.
SBO’s, you. You, SBO’s.
Now before you start thinking an SBO is some new thing not to be mentioned in the presence of grandmothers and small children, I’m talking about soil-based organisms.
When someone says “probiotics,” most of us think of food: yogurt, water kefir, pickles, beet kvass, kombucha, sauerkraut, etc. We might also think of other sources of beneficial bacteria – dairy or vegetable-derived probiotic pills. These types of bacteria are incredibly beneficial – I happen to have several in my fridge right now – but they have a couple of inherent weaknesses:
#1: They May Die Before You Consume Them
Lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria – the most common species found in foods and supplements – are notoriously sensitive to heat, light and pressure. When transported, they need to be refrigerated and/or shipped with ice packs during warm months to maintain optimum potency. Most manufacturers do not go to this trouble and instead estimate a percentage of die-off when they make claims about potency.
The problem is, this practice assumes that the bottles were not forgotten in a hot warehouse or semi-truck for a day, which is quite possible depending on the company and/or reseller who is stocking the product. And that, folks, is how you may end up paying top dollar for a completely dead probiotic! (*see the note at the bottom of this post for exceptions)
#2: They May Die After You Consume Them!
Something else to be aware of with these types of bacteria is that they don’t fare well in stomach acid, so not all will make it to the gut. While research indicates that even dead bacteria are beneficial to prime the immune system – their cell walls contain peptides that cause an uptick in immune modulation – live bacteria are unquestionably better.
I’m not saying these types of bacteria aren’t valuable – they absolutely are! I eat fermented foods everyday because I am convinced that what makes it to the gut is highly beneficial. But here’s the deal: I believe they’re meant to play a role in gut health, but they’re not the only beneficial bacteria available. While some manufacturers are inventing the equivalent of micro-hockey gear to keep lactic acid and bifidobacteria safe – patented nano-encapsulation and hard enteric coatings for example – they may overlooking a class of probiotics that naturally survives stomach acid.
A class that has been shown to induce an 82-100% remission rate in IBS patients within two weeks, for example. (source)
Folks, it’s time to meet Chuck’s cousin – Dirt.
Benefits of Soil-Based Probiotics
“We used to say everyone should eat a pound of dirt in a lifetime,” said the woman with the crinkly, smiling eyes. She’d caught my glance right after I gave my daughter “the nod” just a few feet from her farmer’s market stand. The nod, of course, was me letting my daughter know that it was okay to pick up the apple she’d dropped in the dirt and continue on. I smiled. My daughter smiled. And so did the woman behind the counter.
In Denmark, the saying is seven pounds a year, and in other places no one speaks of measurements at all, but many old sayings and practices promote the health benefits of dirt.
Now, you may have noticed that there is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for dirt on the U.S. Food and Nutrition chart, but don’t let that fool you. Science is finally catching up with what cultures around the world have known for generations: Dirt is a superfood.
Unlike lactic acid and bifidobacteria, most of the beneficial bacterial strains found in productive soil are extraordinarily hardy. They can survive heat, shock, and stomach acid, and most importantly they thrive in the environment that makes up the gut.
So what are the tangible benefits of SBO’S? Well, for starters . . .
Study: Dirt Can Make You Happier, Smarter, & Healthier
It won’t do laundry, though, so I guess we’ll just have to settle for the first three. According to studies conducted at Bristol University and Sage Colleges concluded that soil-based organisms make us happier and smarter, while other research shows they help regulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, break down our food for us, assist us with detoxification, and even bring out the best in use by influencing our genetic expression.
Plus, in this double-blind, placebo controlled study researchers found that IBS patients who took a soil-based probiotic experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after two weeks. A follow-up study found that the patients were still experiencing these benefits 1 year after discontinuing the probiotic, presumably because the beneficial bacteria stays in the gut and continues to function.
Researchers have also “correlated the high diversity of bacteria and fungi in household dust – from soil and farm animals – with the low likelihood of asthma” and allergies along with conditions like diarrhea. (source 1, source 2)
In other words, they’re one of the primary contributors to our health.
Well, except that most of us just don’t get enough dirt in our lives. This is true for many reasons:
- We rarely spend our days gardening or munching on produce pulled fresh from the earth
- Our culture is obsessed with disinfecting everything
- The top six inches of soil used to grow conventional crops is virtually dead
- Even organic produce usually comes to us after being thoroughly scrubbed
So what should we do? Get more dirt in our lives of course!
Before You Put Mud Pies On The Menu, Though . . .
It’s important to mention that not every organism in productive soil is friendly. Ideally, we develop immunity to potentially pathogenic organisms through gradual routine exposure. Children’s immune systems are primed for this process, but as adults it may take a little longer to adjust.
While I’m making a huge effort to get more dirt in my life (heck, I bought a farm!), I’m also taking a high-quality soil-based probiotic to ensure that my gut has an established set of beneficial soil-based organisms to help neutralize any unfriendly stuff I encounter.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. Please talk to your trusted healthcare professional for personal advice on dietary changes and supplements. See my full disclaimer here.
*Certain technologies such as nano-encapsulation and hard enteric coatings may help preserve some potency loss while shipping.