Soil-based probiotics are thought to be better than regular probiotics because they do not require refrigeration and produce spores that give them the ability to withstand harsh stomach acid and other digestive enzymes. However, recent developments in the technology used to manufacture regular probiotics has also made them tougher and more likely to survive within the stomach environment. Therefore, the presumed advantage of soil-based probiotics over regular ones is relative.
Probiotics have had a dynamic albeit short history. We started with probiotic supplements around two or three decades ago, and then about a decade or so later, we had soil-based probiotics. Right now, we are on something called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT). All these are legitimate pillars of the probiotic legacy. So are we to assume that each new generation is better than the last?
Well, yes and no. However, the rule of thumb is that if it is working, do not fix it. Also, for the most part, probiotics are a business, and people will do anything to get that dollar out of your pocket. I will say that FMT is some next-level stuff; there is no debate about its superiority. Seriously, miracles happen through FMT; look it up. However, the jury is still out on the battle between soil-based probiotics and regular probiotics. Let us dive deep into the facts and see how soil-based probiotics compare to regular probiotics.
I would also like to state that most of the information about soil-based probiotics on the internet is riddled with commercial interest. Most of the people who tell you that Soil-based probiotics are better than the regular ones are the same ones who are selling these products. Without solid evidence, this ends up being an apple versus oranges debate. But not to worry, I have dived deep into the research and I have evidence in truckloads.
What are Soil-Based Probiotics
When we talk about probiotics, we talk about bacteria that are alive and beneficial to humans. Soil-based probiotics are bacteria whose natural dwelling is in the soil. Soil-based probiotics are also bacteria that are healthy for human consumption. In ancient times, soil-based probiotics were used in the fermentation of food.
Okay, this is how it is supposed to work. When we eat food from the soil, such as carrots and other tubers, some of the beneficial bacteria from the soil and plants’ root systems would end up in our gut and keep aiding in digestion and other microbiota-related functions. Given how strict we have become when it comes to washing our foods thoroughly before we even cook them, it is unlikely that we are ingesting any considerable natural soil-based probiotics. Consequently, people who lead a rural or traditional lifestyle are more likely to benefit from soil-based probiotics and have a rich gut microbiota composition (Source 1) (Source 2). Nevertheless, courtesy of modern research developments, and genuine interest from health nuts like you and me, what you can get free from the soil, is now available in a bottle at $49.95!
More than a hundred types of soil-based probiotics are found within the soil. However, only a handful of soil-based probiotic strains are on offer as probiotic health products. Just as the bacteria in your gut are responsible for breaking down the nutrients your body needs, the probiotics in the soil break down the nutrients that plants need and help plants fight harmful bacteria and fungi. Hence, there are probiotic-based fertilizers for nurturing plants!
Soil-based probiotics supplements take microbial strains that occur naturally in the soil and then pack them into a product that is fit for human consumption. Bacteria from the soil differ from those mostly sold as regular probiotics because they are more stable and can easily survive room temperature environments. As we will see in the section below, these probiotics have a better ability to survive the journey from the mouth to the colon.
How Are Soil-Based Probiotics Better than Regular Probiotics?
Just like in any other category of probiotics, soil-based probiotics are mainly aimed at repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria. There is also research to show that soil-based probiotics can work towards enhancing the immune system and improving digestive functions.
Soil-based probiotics have a higher rate of survival than regular probiotics. When soil-based bacteria multiply, they do so by forming spores that are enclosed in a hard shell. These hard shells easily resist the stomach acids and other harsh digestive enzymes that would typically kill regular probiotics.
The implication is that Soil-based probiotics s have higher chances of multiplying in the gut and possibly colonizing. The main aim of taking probiotics is to repopulate the gut with good bacteria. The tough soil-based probiotics come with higher chances of surviving any gut environment and multiplying.
Nevertheless, there are those who feel that the toughness of soil-based probiotics is not necessarily a good thing because it means that they are also more likely to “over-colonize” the gut. Their element of toughness means that they might multiply to the extent of overtaking some of the good resident bacteria in the stomach, especially for people with suppressed microbiota diversity (Source). Therefore, an individual would end up will a less-diverse gut microbiome. In essence, the healthiest people in the world are the ones with a diverse microbiome. In fact, when researchers are looking for the most suitable FMT donors, one of their major considerations is the diversity of their microbiota (Source).
Having bacteria that can potentially overcrowd the resident good gut bacteria appears to be risky in the long term, even though it might be an attractive option in the short term. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that research on soil-based probiotics is still in its infancy, and their potential to be pathogenically colonial is mostly hypothesized, but it is yet to be proven (Source).
Some Key Benefits of Soil-Based Probiotics
So other than the fact that they are able to survive better in the stomach, what are the other notable benefits of choosing soil-based probiotics over regular ones?
1. Soil-Based Probiotics are More Natural
Well, the first main advantage of soil-based probiotics is that there are more “natural” in that they are collected from the soil. Nature had purposed that when people eat food from the soil, a little bit of the life-giving organisms from the earth will find their way into the stomach and confer some benefits. Soil-based probiotics have the advantage of coming directly from the soil and making up for the fact that modern food has too many chemicals and is often overwashed. The natural element of these probiotics also makes it easier for manufacturers to make a product that is vegan-friendly, non-dairy, and non-sugar, among others. Consequently, their likelihood of triggering allergies is quite low.
2. Soil-Based Probiotics Are Good for Combating Bacterial Overgrowth
Most small-intestine bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) can be managed using probiotics. However, some strains of regular probiotics can end up feeding the bad bacteria and worsening symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, and gas. On the contrary, soil-based probiotics do not feed bacteria overgrowth (Source). The spore-forming bacteria in soil-based probiotics tend to stay inactive until they leave acidic environments in the small intestines.
Therefore, in most cases, soil-based bacteria will only activate when it reaches the large intestines and the colon. As earlier noted, one of the main goal, when you take a probiotic supplement is to ensure that it reaches the large intestines and the colon while it is still alive because this is where it delivers the most health benefits. Research has shown that soil-based probiotics are a better option when dealing with SIBO in comparison to regular probiotics (Source 1, Source 2).
3. Soil-Based Probiotics Will Accomplish all the Other Normal Probiotic Functions
Any good quality soil-based probiotics will eventually solve the normal microbiota-imbalance-related problems such as diarrhoea, reduced immunity, food allergies, antibiotic-caused problems, and also mental problems. Overall, these supplements will still deliver most of the advantages of regular probiotics.
It is important to note that soil-based probiotics are rarely formulated to combat specific issues, as it is the case with regular probiotics. However, they can positively impact various health conditions that result from microbiota imbalances.
Are Soil Probiotics Automatically Better than Regular Probiotics?
The two main advantages of soil-based probiotics over regular probiotics are their ability to survive in the external environment and inside the stomach. Basically, soil-based probiotics do not need to be refrigerated and will easily survive the harsh environment of small intestines.
In comparison, most regular probiotics require refrigeration, and their survival rate in the small intestines is quite low.
Nevertheless, the fact that soil-based probiotics have the ability to survive makes them more likely to cause problems for individuals with a badly damaged microbiome (Source). The microbiota introduced into the stomach by soil-based probiotics is likely to take over and tilt the microbiota balance. One study noted that the strength of soil-based probiotics is worth-considering, but people with highly-suppressed immune systems and highly imbalanced gut microbiota should approach these types of supplements carefully.
Recent Advancements in Regular Probiotics Versus SBOs
Soil-based probiotics (SBOs) are often made as a more-effective substitute for regular probiotics. However, while research on regular probiotics is more advanced, the one on SBOs still lags behind. The research on regular probiotic cultures has been boosted by newer techniques, the use of animal models, better encapsulation technology, and more novel methods of developing specific probiotic solutions.
So how do regular probiotics fair in the competition between them and SBOs?
1. They Can Target Specific Diseases More Easily
By law, probiotics are classified as nutritional supplements, and as such, they should not be advertised as a cure for any specific disease. However, advancements in research have allowed manufacturers to study the effectiveness of single strains against various types of diseases and conditions to identify the areas of most impact.
Strain-specific research on probiotics tends to be more advanced for regular probiotics in comparison with soil-based ones. There is research to show that the efficiency of probiotics is both strain-specific and disease-specific (Source). Therefore, it is easier to use regular probiotics to target more specific diseases and conditions as opposed to when using SBOs that are more limited in terms of strain variety and level of research.
2. They Are a More Effective Option for Microbe-based Therapy
Yet another reminder that this platform is called My Probiotic Lifestyle and as such microbe-based therapy is highly valued. Microbe-based therapy refers to efforts to re-engineer the gut microbiome by adding, subtracting or modulating microbes within the body. Basically, this is one thing I would love to achieve to deal with my leaky gut better. However, the idea that you can re-engineer your natural gut microbiome sounds simple in theory, but it is quite complex.
The gut has millions of microbiota and thousands of different strains. Therefore, when this natural balance is disrupted, re-engineering it requires the application of native or manufactured microbes. In addition, microbe-based therapy might require the precise application of bacteriophages, antibiotics, and bacteriocins (Source). There is evidence to show that microbe-based therapy was traditionally used in cancer therapy to tweak metabolism and influence the immune response to the tumor (Source1) (Source 2) (Source 3).
One limitation of soil probiotics in respect to microbe-based therapy is that they are not among the bacteria strains that are naturally found in the gut. In addition, they have a limited diversity, with most of them being bacillus strains. Hence, the effectiveness of soil-based probiotics for microbiome-based therapy could be quite limited. On the contrary, microbiome therapeutics is easier when one is using regular probiotics. For instance, most regular probiotics come in a variety of species and strains. Microbiome modulations are also more possible for regular probiotics in the quest to ensure that probiotics lead to the right health and disease applications.
3. Better Encapsulation Technologies Have Led to Improved Efficiency
As earlier noted, the main advantage of soil-based probiotics is that they can survive the harsh stomach environment and possibly reach the large intestines and the colon in large numbers. The main question is, what if there is a technology that can be applied to regular probiotics to ensure that these supplements arrive in the gut in large numbers?
Well, that technology exists, and it is known as encapsulation. According to ground-breaking research on probiotic encapsulation, these methods aim to protect bacterial cells. This has increased the viability of these microorganisms in both the external environment and within the gastrointestinal tract (Source). The encapsulation technology has also evolved to include controlled release and optimized delivery to the site of action (Source 1), (Source 2).
Therefore, there is little doubt that encapsulation improves the overall efficiency of probiotic strains. Therefore, encapsulating means that some regular probiotics can compete with soil-based probiotics in terms of their rates of survival in the stomach.
Given that some modern regular probiotics can pack as much as 200 billion CFU in a single dose, effective encapsulation technology can ensure that a good number of these bacteria reach the large intestines and the colon. One emerging encapsulation technology is double-microencapsulation in the course of attempts to protect probiotic bacteria (Source). This novel technology has proven to be highly effective in ensuring probiotic survival in the course of their transit through the gut.
4. Which Can Pack a Higher CFU Count?
No matter how you want to look at it, this probiotic lifestyle is a game of numbers. Taking probiotics with a high CFU count is always a good move because they are more likely to survive the tough stomach conditions in large numbers within the digestive system is also quite high.
So which has higher CFU numbers, soil-based probiotics or regular probiotics? Well, both soil-based probiotics and regular probiotics can have high CFUs because the number is mostly a decision of the manufacturer as per the needs of the market and the available technology. Subsequently, both types of probiotics have products that have CFUs of more than 100 billion.
Nevertheless, higher levels of research and competition within the regular probiotic industry mean that these varieties have, on average higher CFU levels than those of SBOs. However, as we had mentioned earlier, people with immunosuppressed systems would need to think twice about taking SBOs with abnormally higher CFUs. Nobody really “needs” a probiotic with a CFU count of more than 100 billion, but it is available because of…free market. At the same time, who would mind 100 billion beneficial colony-forming units being supplied to their gut on a daily basis?
Both soil-based and regular probiotics have the potential for high CFU counts, but there are concerns about the SBOs potentially overcrowding the resident gut microbiota.
Are soil-based probiotics better than regular probiotics? Soil-based probiotics are only better than regular probiotics in some aspects; hence their superiority is not absolute. Moreover, it is important to note that regular probiotics have specific benefits that soil-based probiotics might be lacking. At this point, regular probiotics also have the advantage of having the more-advanced research because they have been around for longer.
The only reason why we take probiotics is to balance the gut microbiota. Given that both SBOs and regular probiotics work towards this goal, both types are thereby valid options. If you have done your homework well, you will notice that in most cases, the people who tell you that soil-based probiotics are “obviously” better also happen to be selling you these types of probiotics.
A good probiotic is a wise addition to your diet and nutritional needs. I have given you the gist of the research so that you can make an informed decision because my verdict could be disappointing to some:
Both soil-based and regular probiotics are good and, when used correctly, will contribute toward a more-balanced gut microbiota.
We have created a poll that is strictly for people who have taken both types of probiotics to tell us their honest findings. If you do not have any experience with both types, this is a good chance for you to test out what we have covered in this research and then come back to the polls and give us an honest take.
I am yet to try soil-based probiotics, but I have no reason to doubt that they are more potent than regular probiotics. But I often like to point out that the probiotic lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. I have learnt the hard way that time is an important factor when it comes to regaining microbiota imbalances.
In essence, if you have spent the last ten years of your life destroying your gut microbiota, you should not expect to regain your gut bacteria balance in a month or two.
I am not overly curious about soil-based probiotics as I am about other probiotic-related developments such as FMT. However, if someone came to me with a short-term issue such as antibiotic-related diarrhoea, I would not hesitate to recommend the more-potent soil-based probiotics. For long-term probiotic users like me, the trick is to keep switching from one to the other. That means that at one point in the course of my probiotic journey, I will do soil-based probiotics. I also think everyone should at least try soil-based probiotics.