Writing an article on the best probiotics is a big challenge simply because there are so many on the market. So rather than try to review an exhaustive list of elaborate sounding probiotic organisms, this article will provide an overview of the some of the key qualities that differentiate effective and therapeutic probiotics. Following that, the article will cover some of the specific proven benefits of a specific probiotic recently added to a popular brand of protein powder.
Before starting our discussion on the qualities of effective probiotics; it’s useful to provide an overview of the amazing human gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which will help to build a framework on which to base our understanding of how probiotics work.
Functions of the Gastrointestinal Tract
The GI tract plays important roles in absorption and assimilation. It provides a protective barrier against invasion by harmful organisms and helps the immune system to distinguish between harmful and harmless substances1. To help maximise absorption the GI tract has a relatively complex structure, with its interior consisting of millions of finger-like projections called villi. This unique structure results in the GI tract having an average surface area of 300 m2 (the average tennis court has a surface area of just over 260 m2)1. This surface is lined by a single layer of millions of specialised cells called epithelial cells. Beneath this epithelial cell layer are large specialised areas of our immune system1.
Gastrointestinal Immune System
In fact, over 70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut. One of the major jobs of the immune system in our gut is to discriminate between the large number and variety of antigens (proteins capable of inducing an immune response) that the GI tract is exposed to day in day out1. If the function of either the gut epithelial layer or its underlying immune system is compromised; opportunistic organisms can invade in varying degrees. This can lead to malabsorption, infection and inflammation, or even autoimmune disease where the immune system responds inappropriately to itself1.
The GI tract is populated by as many as 1014 microbes (i.e. 100 trillion!), which incidentally is many times greater than the entire number of cells that make up the human body. As is often touted in advertising about probiotics; the bacteria in our gut can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In very simplistic terms, the GI tract has to ‘balance’ the good and bad such that the baddies are kept to a minimum - this limiting the damage they can cause.
Properties of Probiotics
This is where probiotics come in. As most know, probiotics are the good guys; they play an important role in the health of the GI system by altering the environment, limiting the growth of pathogenic organisms, synthesising nutrients and increasing energy harvesting from the food we ingest. Many probiotic species produce lactic acid, which serves to lower the pH in the GI tract. This in turn creates an environment that limits the growth of many harmful yeasts and bacterial species. The other mechanism by which probiotic bacteria work is via secretion of antimicrobial compounds that are harmful to pathogenic organisms and thus limit their growth2. Lastly probiotic bacteria also synthesize nutrients that are beneficial to the host and other beneficial gut organisms such as vitamin K2 and a variety of the B vitamins including folate and B121.
Issues with Probiotic Supplementation
The key issue with many commonly consumed probiotic bacteria such as the Lactobacillus species is that they are very sensitive to normal physiological conditions like the very low pH of the stomach, bile salts, and high temperatures. This creates challenges for the delivery of these bacteria to the intestines when they are consumed orally. These challenges also spill over to manufacturing, shipping and storage conditions3-5.
However, there are some strains of probiotic bacteria that have been shown to be relatively resistant to extremes of heat, stomach acidity and bile acids. One such example is Bacillus coagulans6. Such characteristics make it an ideal probiotic due to the greater shelf-life stability and survivability to the intestines when consumed. These characteristics also mean that it can be easily incorporated into food products, including things like protein powders. In microbiological gobbledegook, Bacillus coagulans is an aerobic gram-positive spore-forming bacterium. Its this specific structure of Bacillus coagulans that makes it unique relative to many other probiotics and it’s also the key to why it survives transit through the GI tract better than other non-spore-forming bacterium1. Recently, a number of sports nutrition companies have taken the step of incorporating various patented strains of Bacillus coagulans into their protein powders in an attempt to improve their overall health benefits.
Benefits of Ganeden BC30
But is there any decent research to back up the claimed benefits of probiotic’s such as these? As it turns out there actually is…and quite a bit too. In particularly, one patented strain of Bacillus coagulans with the trade name, Ganeden BC30TM (GBC30) has received a substantial amount of attention by researchers. As an example, studies have confirmed the long-term safety of oral consumption of GBC307. To add to this, recent clinical studies have shown the efficacy of oral consumption of GBC30 for alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome8, 9 and inducing an increased immune response to viral challenge10 and common viral respiratory tract infections11.
Other studies in rat models have shown that GBC30 offers protection against the powerful intestinal pathogen – Clostridium difficile12, with other studies uncovering some of the mechanism by which GBC30 inhibits inflammation13. Further studies are ongoing concerning other beneficial effects of GBC30 on gastrointestinal health.
In summary, a good probiotic is one that is stable during storage and also survives transition through the harsh conditions of the stomach and GI tract. GBC30 certainly seems to meet these criteria, making it a valuable addition to protein powders. If you’re a bit overawed by the range of protein powders available and are looking for one with a bit of an edge/difference – then one containing GBC30 may be a good option.
1. Jensen GS, et al. GanedenBC30 cell wall and metabolites: anti-inflammatory and immune modulating effects in vitro. BMC Immunol. 2010;11:15.
2. Ng SC, et al. Mechanisms of action of probiotics: recent advances. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009 Feb;15(2):300-10.
3. Bezkorovainy A. Probiotics: determinants of survival and growth in the gut. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73:399S–405S.
4. Graff S, et al. Formulations for protecting the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii from degradation in acidic condition. Biol Pharm Bull. 2008;31:266–272.
5. Ljungh A & Wadstrom T. Lactic acid bacteria as probiotics. Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2006;7:73–89.
6. Keller D, Farmer S, McCartney AL, Gibson G. Bacillus coagulans as a probiotic. Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods. 2010;7:103–109.
7. Endres JR, et al. Safety assessment of a proprietary preparation of a novel Probiotic, Bacillus coagulans, as a food ingredient. Food Chem Toxicol. 2009;47(6):1231-1238.
8. Hun L. Bacillus coagulans significantly improved abdominal pain and bloating in patients with IBS. Postgrad Med. 2009;121(2):119-124.
9. Dolin BJ. Effects of a proprietary Bacillus coagulans preparation on symptoms of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2009;31(10):655-659.
10. Baron M. A patented strain of Bacillus coagulans increased immune response to viral challenge. Postgrad Med. 2009;121(2):114-118.
11. Kimmel M, et al. A controlled clinical trial to evaluate the effect of GanedenBC(30) on immunological markers. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2010;32(2):129-132.
12. Ftizpatrick LR, et al. Bacillus Coagulans GBI-30 (BC30) improves indices of Clostridium difficile-Induced colitis in mice. Gut Pathog. 2011;3(1):16.
13. Benson KF, et al. Probiotic metabolites from Bacillus coagulans GanedenBC30(TM) support maturation of antigen-presenting cells in vitro. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(16):1875-1883.