LifeSpa’s Microbiome Study
Do you think traveling to Europe increases microbial diversity?
Some of you may remember a series of articles I wrote last summer called Eat, Pray, Bugs. These articles were background research for a study we conducted here at LifeSpa, a small pilot study to see if the American microbiome would gain microbial diversity (which we Americans greatly lack) and new permanent residents when exposed to European foods and colonizing probiotics for two to four weeks.
Colonizing probiotics are those few strains that have been found to adhere to the intestinal lining and become permanent residents. Most probiotics are transient in nature, which means that while they are still beneficial, they pass through the gut, requiring long-term supplementation. My goal with all supplements is to get on them if needed, get better, and then get off or use them long-term to support seasonal deficiencies or underlying physiological weak links.
We measured the microbiome of ten American adults two weeks before and after a two- to four-week European trip. To add a twist, I wanted to see if LifeSpa’s Flora Restore MAX, a colonizing probiotic, would boost microbiome diversity and maintain that diversity for three weeks after the trip, which would suggest proliferation of new microbial residents.
Colonizing Probiotics: Do They Make it Past the Stomach?
There is little science suggesting probiotic supplements actually make permanent changes to the microbiome. Thus, to get the benefits, you must continue taking them. I was interested in confirming science that suggests microbe strains in LifeSpa’s Flora Restore, Flora Restore MAX, and Gut Revival are actually colonizing (not transient) probiotics.1
To accomplish this, half the group took a colonizing probiotic (Flora Restore MAX) during their trip, and the other half did not take a probiotic during their trip.
The genus lactobacillus, found in Flora Restore MAX, a colonizing probiotic, increased in 100% (four out of four people) of those taking the probiotic. These findings poke all sorts of holes in the rumors that probiotics don’t make it past the stomach and are destroyed by stomach acid.
Does Being in Europe Improve the Microbiome?
The first question in our study—whether living and eating in Europe would increase microbial diversity—had an interesting result. Across the board, everyone who visited Europe saw an influx in new microbes, on average 116 new genera of bacteria.
At first glance, you might think this is a huge influx in microbiome diversity, but diversity would be gaining more new microbes than you lost.
The actual results were: 60% of the probiotic group saw an increase in diversity, whereas 33% of the non-probiotic group saw an increase in diversity.
This is very interesting because it indicates that traveling to Europe on its own did not much increase microbial diversity; instead you mostly swap old microbes for new European microbes. However, these results also imply taking colonizing probiotics might create a more suitable environment for microbial diversity, so the combination of probiotics and a new environment is the key.
Nature did have a plan for this as our ancestors migrated and ate a changing and diverse diet seasonally. A Stanford University study recently tested the microbiomes of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe, the Hadza, and found their microbiome would dramatically shift with each season.9
Our Microbiome Results
- 3 out of 5 (60%) in the probiotic group experienced increased microbial diversity
- 1 out of 3 (33%) increased microbial diversity in the non-probiotic group
European Probiotic Conclusion
Traveling to Europe exposes you to a huge host of new microbes, but you also lose microbes when transitioning to such a different environment. It seems taking colonizing probiotics helps you maintain more microbes, rather than simply having new microbes push old microbes out the door.
Ninety-nine percent of probiotics on the market are transient, rather than colonizing, meaning that while they do offer health benefits, they do not contribute to a new stable of permanent and beneficial bacteria. One hundred percent of the participants who were not previously taking the probiotic saw an increase in lactobacillus (four out of four).
Back in the early 1980s, when I first got into practice, it become very clear to me that the use of digestive enzymes, probiotics, herbal laxatives, and others offered temporary relief and often a dependency on those pills and powders. Back then, all probiotics were transient and in my clinical experience, required lifelong supplementation. For decades, I would tell all the supplement vendors who would solicited us that if you can show me a study where the probiotics adhere to the intestinal wall and become permanent, I’m in!
The Probiotic Science10
LifeSpa’ colonizing probiotics have many mechanisms that benefit health, including but not limited to:
- supporting metabolic activity3
- supporting production of short-chain fatty acids and vitamins
- increasing nutrient absorption
- boosting digestion of lactose4
- adhering to intestinal epithelial cells to help maintain a healthy balance of organisms in the intestinal tract5
- helping to establish populations of good bacteria after disruption in balance6
- supporting immune function7
- promoting intestinal epithelial cell survival8
- supporting healthy bowel function9
- degrading oxalates3-9
Perhaps the most compelling evidence in these studies was the ability for these probiotics to not only adhere to the intestinal wall, but to actually support increased proliferation of other new and more diverse gut microbes. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human dietary intervention study in elderly subjects (>60 yrs), supplementary B. lactis HN019 resulted in statistically significant increases in the beneficial organisms bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
To read all the studies of the LifeSpa line of colonizing probiotics, click here.
We’d like to very much thank Research and Testing Laboratory for providing all the test kits for the microbiome samples and facilitating the Microbial Diversity Analysis. We couldn’t have put this together without them!