Once upon a time, there was remarkable a boy we shall call The Immunity Gladiator. He stayed well through the harsh winters of Dunedin, New Zealand year after year . . . after year. When curious researchers decided to find out why, they discovered that he carried a rare strain of bacteria – S. salivarius.
Now, if you’re saying to yourself “S. salivarius, that’s a mouthful!” . . . well, you’d be exactly right. This beneficial bacteria – which has been found in volunteers with particularly strong immune defenses against seasonal concerns – is primarily found in the mouth. Research suggests that it supports ear, nose, and throat health along with respiratory function, but unfortunately only a very small percentage of us (about 2%) have abundant amounts of it. (source)
I don’t know about you, but after years of focusing on gut health through probiotics, fermented foods and and staples like bone broth, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how to support a diverse microbiome. But whoa, oral probiotics!?!? This is new territory for me.
Apparently, just as certain species of pathogenic bacteria (such as those that feed on tooth enamel and cause sore throats or earaches) tend to favor the oral cavity, certain beneficial bacteria do as well.
S. salivarus competes with these bacteria and is thought to have a positive impact on microbial balance. Multiple studies found on PubMed support the use of BLIS K12, which is a commercially available strain of S. salivarius, to:
- Maintain healthy oral bacteria
- Support the body’s first line of defense – the immune system
- Promote fresh breath
Personally, my interest in BLIS K12 goes beyond what’s currently been studied. Just as Dr. Weston A. Price made a connection between nutrition and a low incidence of cavities in certain traditional populations, I wonder if there is a connection between an increase in oral health issues and the loss of the oral microbiome. I can’t count the number of times I swished antibacterial mouthwashes as a child, never thinking of how it might affect the friendly bacteria in my mouth.
Though reestablishing one strain is not the same as repopulating an entire ecosystem, it seems like a good start to me.
Too much of a good thing?
In the case of certain probiotics – like l. acidophilus – it is sometimes possible to get too much of a good thing. That’s why I personally rotate the probiotic supplements I take (a couple of my favorites are listed on my shopping page) and try to consume a variety of fermented foods.
When reading up on oral probiotics, one of the things that stood out to me is that the strain I am using is self-limiting. According to Grant Washington-Smith of BLIS Technologies (the company that makes the commercially available strain of S. salivarius):
“Almost every probiotic on the market works by out-competing other bacteria. BLIS K12 is no different but it has other weapons in its arsenal that other probiotics don’t have. BLIS K12 actually produces two specific BLIS compounds. One BLIS is designed to maintain normal healthy population levels and prevent even the good bacteria from over-growing. The other BLIS is only produced when the BLIS K12 probiotic is threatened. This is a powerful substance that acts like a tiny spear to defend the delicate environmental balance.” (source, emphasis mine)
Which one do I use?
There are several probiotics for oral health which incorporate the BLIS K12 strain – this is the one I use. Just in case you might be wondering, this is NOT a sponsored post and I have never received any free products from this company – I’m just a customer writing a review. My reasons for going with this brand are:
- In my opinion it has the cleanest “other” ingredient list of the options that I researched. In addition to the two active ingredients – BLIS probiotics and zinc – the lozenges are sweetened with a blend of stevia and isomalt, which is a sugar alcohol that is mostly indigestible to us. If you’re skeptical of sugar alcohols like I was, I recommend that you read Chris Kresser, LAc’s, take on them here. Inulin, which is a prebiotic that serves as food for the beneficial bacteria, is included, as is mint extract (for flavor), cellulose (to add bulk so that it’s big enough to be a lozenge), dicalcium phosphate (a form of calcium that helps hold the lozenge together), and glyceryl behenate (which is made by mixing glycerin with a saturated fatty acid).
- The company that produces this lozenge supports Yayasan Bumi Sehat, a gentle birthing center and medical facility in Bali that is working to improve birth in that region. The center was founded by Robin Lim, who was named CNN Hero of the Year in 2011.