While the understanding of our own microbiology is still in its infancy, there are a few science-backed takeaways that do make sense.
Basically, there are two types of supplemental beneficial bacteria strains (probiotics): transient and colonizing.
Transient strains do not adhere to the intestinal wall and are only effective as long as you keep taking them.
Colonizing strains have been shown to adhere to the intestinal wall and support the permanent proliferation of more beneficial bacteria.
There is an overwhelming amount of science suggesting probiotics do deliver health benefits, but when it comes to transient probiotics, the science tells us that to continue to reap the benefits, you have to continue to take them. Once you stop, your gut bug populations seem to revert to the way they were before. (1)
This may explain the exploding probiotic industry and the growing consensus among health-conscious people that, to be healthy, one would need to take a probiotic for the rest of their life.
Why You Don’t Need Probiotics Long-Term
I tend to look at transient probiotic supplements (which make up 99 percent of the probiotics in the market) as valuable symptomatic relief for a bigger problem—but not as a required life-long supplement.
Our ancestors used probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, cheese, and fermented vegetables, along with tubers, fruits, and veggies that were swarming with diverse bacteria to keep a healthy stable of gut bugs.
Ayurveda described bacteria as “krimi.” Health concerns linked to krimi were described as “krimi roga.” To address these issues, they suggested modifying the environment of the host. (2-4)
They went on to suggest that the prakriti (environment) of the human host, as well as the microbes, can both be suitably modified with dietary and lifestyle habits, herbal and mineral support, along with immune-enhancing Ayurvedic procedures. (2-4)
As described by our Ayurvedic ancestors thousands of years ago, the key to addressing your very own good and bad bacteria is to balance the digestive environment in which they reside. This requires a strong upper digestive system, healthy intestinal skin, and an inoculation of colonizing probiotics to create a lasting stable of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Colonizing probiotics must first be able to:
- Make it safely through the upper digestive system and past the acid in your stomach unharmed.
- Then, these bacteria must be able to adhere to the intestinal wall and become permanent residents.
- Then finally, these new bacteria now adhered to the intestinal wall must support the proliferation of new, more diverse species of bacteria that are introduced to the gut via organic, whole foods, or even a transient probiotic.
3 Colonizing Strains to Remember
When looking for a colonizing probiotic to accomplish the goal of supporting the proliferation of new, beneficial, and more diverse gut bacteria, keep an eye out for these three strains:
Bifidobacterium lactis HN019
This strain has the ability to survive the transit through the human gastrointestinal tract, adhere to epithelial cells, and proliferate in the intestinal tract. (5)
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human dietary study in elderly subjects over 60 years old, supplementary B lactis HN019 resulted in statistically significant increases in the beneficial organisms bifidobacteria and lactobacilli suggesting an increase in permanent and more diverse beneficial microbes residing in the gut. (6)
Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14
A common inhabitant of the human mouth, intestinal tract, and vagina is also found in some traditional fermented milk (e.g., kefir), and is widely used in probiotic foods and supplements.
L acidophilus La-14 shows excellent adhesion to human epithelial cell lines. (7,8)
Lactobacillus plantarum Lp-115
This is a bacteria isolated from plant material and is abundantly present in lactic acid-fermented foods, such as olives and sauerkraut.
Studies have shown that L plantarum strain Lp-115 has excellent adhesion to epithelial cell lines. (10)
In addition, L plantarum is resistant to low pH stomach acid and survives the presence of bile at duodenal concentrations. (10,11)
Read more about our own study on the effectiveness of these colonizing probiotics here.
Learn about how to restore balance to your intestinal skin and create the best possible environment for colonizing bacteria to proliferate in my article, “From Prebiotic to Probiotic: 4 Steps to a Healthy Microbiome.”