With the addition of this post on soil-based organisms as probiotics, I guess this can now be considered a series of posts on probiotics since I have written about them here and here already. I am also sure I will come across even more things to discuss with regards to probiotics in the future as they appear to be getting a good deal of attention in the research and medical community particularly as an alternative to antibiotics. This post however, will be a little different as I will not be writing about a specific condition, it will be a post about a specific type of probiotic. This type of probitic is one that I am considering as my next step in controlling my “minor” autoimmune condition (seasonal allergies). I have been reading a fair bit about this type of probiotic and have become very interested in its suggested ability to regulate the immune system and its antimicrobial properties.
In Chris Kresser’s most recent Revolution Health Radio episode, he talked about The Old Friends hypothesis of chronic disease and autoimmunity and the introduction of what is called soil-based organism probiotics. The bacteria in this type of probiotic is not the common Lactobacillus type you commonly hear about, they are actually bacteria commonly found in soil. Eeeeewwww…you mean eating dirt is good for me. Well, it seems the short answer is yes. Now just so you are aware, probiotics containing soil based organisms are not actually dirt, they have simply cultured the bacteria strains that are commonly found in dirt, and only the ones that are not pathogenic.
The Old Friends Hypothesis – Overview
So this is actually pretty interesting stuff. Chris Kresser, in his radio show linked to above, provides a description of this hypothesis as well, and quotes a book called An Epidemic of Absence:
You can check out a summary of the book here. Ultimately, the argument that is presented is that the human species did not evolve in the absence of microorganisms (ie, bacteria and parasites). In reality, we likely evolved together in a symbiosis of sorts, the outcome of which being that we likely, in many ways, rely on the presence of microorganisms in our body, even certain organisms that may be considered pathogenic or parasitic. Really cool stuff right?
Some of you may have heard of what I think is called the hygiene theory? Anyway, it goes something like this: Our immune system has evolved to fight off intruders like viruses and pathogenic bacteria; however, in developed countries, and particularly in countries obsessed over sterilization (think hand sanitizer), we are no longer exposed to the same amount and/or type of such microorganisms, leading to our immune system attacking other things instead (like our own body or inhaled pollen). This may be oversimplified but I gave it my best shot.
Based on reading reviews of the above noted book, a slightly different hypothesis is that the presence of microorganisms in our body and our immune system support each other and if we take one of the supports away (take away the presence of microorganisms) the other one falls (our immune system). In other words the presence of microorganisms in our body seems to provide proper immune system regulation. Again, pretty cool. I will note that I have not read this book, but I will in the very near future. The summary also mentions that it dives into a theory about how allergies can be traced back to inflammatory responses in mothers. I always thought it was my parents fault 🙂
Soil-Based Organisms – Probiotics:
So, some of the microorganisms referred to above would be those found in soil, with the theory that we probably haven’t washed our food and hands 20 million times a day until fairly recently in human history, so we likely ate some dirt, albeit not handfuls at a time. This really got me thinking, and Chris advised that he finds a soil-based probiotic called Prescript-Assist helpful for some of his patients. For me that meant I was going to try and do a bit of research and write something about this. I guess it’s my way of learning.
I started looking for local places that sold a soil-based probiotics and had some trouble doing so. However, I did come across some articles on the possible dangers of taking such a product. Some blogs out there were saying that soil-based probiotics can make you sick, or even cause death…Yikes, time to look further into this one right? It seems that there is limited scientific articles out there on soil based probiotics, but the ones that I found had some positive information for me.
Unfortunately, this article (1) only has the abstract available and I couldn’t track down the full paper. It looks promising based on the fact that it is indicating that a soil based probiotic product has been shown to be beneficial in immune regulation and reducing symptoms in a number of autoimmune conditions, including allergies. At the same time, the abstract was a bit confusing and I couldn’t determine if it was a study on one individual or a review study of sorts.
With regards to IBS specifically, there are two studies (2, 3) that have shown beneficial effects of Prescript-Assist on IBS symptoms. One study was 2 weeks in duration, and the other was a 1 year extension of the first 2 week study.
A specific soil-based bacteria bacillus clausii, was shown to significantly and safely reduce the duration of respiratory infections in children (4). Two literature reviews (5, 6) have indicated that a soil-based bacteria (certain strains of bacillus) have positive effects on certain conditions do to immune regulating and antimicrobial properties.
On a safety note, it appears as though there has been very minimal reports of negative effects of soil-based probiotics (5, 6, 7, 8), so they do appear quite safe based on reading the noted studies. However, the warning in these studies that is given is that some bacillus strains are pathogenic and can cause illness, although these strains don’t seem to be used in probiotic products. Another note is that the studies I looked at mainly deal with bacillus strains of soil-based organisms only, and most soil based probiotics have many strains of bacteria in them (please don’t quote me on that since I haven’t read all soil-based product labels).
In the end, since the bacterial content of each product differs, who knows how accurate labeling of these products are, and the fact that some soil based bacteria can lead to illness, I decided that it was my best bet to seek out a qualified practitioner to suggest something for me. Thus, I have an appointment scheduled with a naturopath next week and soil-based probiotics will be a topic for me during this appointment. Given the reports of the effectiveness of these products on autoimmune conditions with what appears to be minimal, if any, risk of illness, I am very eager for this appointment and to start a product of this type. I must regulate my immune system, and hopefully soil-based probiotics will be the regulators 🙂
Remember, I am not a healthcare practitioner, I am simply communicating what I have researched and read on my own, and what I have decided to try for myself. Hope this is helpful and interesting. I would like to hear if anyone who may read this has ever used a soil based probiotic and what their experience with it was.
The Barefoot Golfer