Let’s have a discussion about probiotics. Theologian Earl Palmer says that the real conversations occurs around the kitchen table. Let’s have a kitchen table probiotic chat.
There is much ado these days about probiotic strains, but is it misleading? In this newsletter we will unveil the mystery of strain designation and therefore the commercialization of the probiotic world. As you read my examples, realize that these studies are utilizing strains that are arbitrarily named by the corporations that deem the bacteria as their intellectual property. If you study a plant, can you designate it as your own?
For my first example: Chris Hansen sites a 2006 study that looked at the health effect of Bifidobacterium BB-12 and Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5 on diarrhea. 29 patients with collagenous colitis and diarrhea were randomized and received their product or a placebo. The results: reduction in bowel frequency of 50% occurred in 6 of 21 and in 1 of 8 patients receiving probiotic and placebo respectively.
What does LA-5 mean? This bacteria, I’m sure, has gone through the scientific nomenclature process and has an official scientific strain designation, but LA-5 is not it, neither is BB-12. Why do we not know it? Because it considered to be more profitable by corporations to keep the universal designation a mystery. It is a practice that is being frowned upon by the government, and for a good reason. This corporate behavior stifles scientific discovery. Read on!
Here is another example: A recent email newsletter from Institut Rosell-Lallemand claimed
What we are looking at is not the research but the use of corporate naming system that does not correspond openly and publicly to the official scientific name of the strain. How can we work together to create a better world when we cannot have a simple open dialogue about scientific discovery?
Here’s another study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology in Sept. 2005: Lactobacillus casei DN-114-001 Inhibits the Ability of Adherent Invasive E-coli Isolated from Crohn’s Disease Patients to Adhere to and to Invade Intestinal Epithelial Cells.
Who provides Lactobacillus casei DN-114-001 for these researchers? None other than Dannom, perhaps the largest yogurt manufacturer in the world—famous for their highly marketed Lactobacillus regularis yogurt. Is there such a scientific designation of a bacteria with the name “regularis”? Of course not. That is typical of commercial/marketing behavior, but it does not add to the science of probiotic research. Why? It leads us all into thinking that “they” have the secret formula (bacteria) that may lead us into the fountain of health. However, we cannot properly research that claim, without knowing the genome of the organism and its strain designation.
Commercial corporations spend millions on researching “their” particular strains, but behave towards the live organism as though it was a synthetic drug they have “patented” and own the rights to. Can anyone own an life form? We know Monsanto has created a havoc with genetically modified seeds (with much research behind their seeds), how soon will it be before the commercial world of probiotic gain control over the use of certain bacteria? When will they start demanding we use only “their” bacteria? Our government has not dealt with Monsanto growing power over farmers’ use of seeds. Are we heading the same direction with bacterial probiotic organisms? Remember, knowing the scientific universal designation of an organism is important for the advancement of medicine.
So, of course, doctors ask us, What “strains” do we use? and What research is there on our strains? Other good questions you might ask are, What kind of genetic confirmation do you regularly perform on your bugs? and What shelf stability have we performed on our products? Let’s talk about this.
How do we select strain?
Hopefully, my answer will help you to understand the true reality of strains in the probiotic commercial world, and how better to separate fact from fiction, and scientific reality from marketing hype.
First, we stay current with the ongoing peer-reviewed research on the human health benefits of probiotic organisms. Plus we’re highly schooled in the rich history of research on probiotic organisms from around the world. We know what we are looking for in strain competencies!
Here are a few of the attributes in general that we look for in probiotics:
We look for universally designated strains that have been proven in trials to reduce IBS, IBD, improve digestion, increase SigA, stop diarrhea, etc. We choose strains that have been proven to be safe, strains that have been used in the fermentation of our foods from around the world.
Secondly, how do we obtain the organisms?
In sourcing the bacteria that we want to grow, trial and work with, there are many options. There are the major Repositories worldwide—ATCC in the USA, NCIMB in the UK, BCCM in Belgium, CIP in France, DSMZ in Germany, JCM in Japan, NCCB in Netherlands, ABRC in Argentina, and BTCC in Bulgaria.
These organizations provide the gold standard when it comes to typing and properly maintaining the mother culture collections. They give strain designations that conform to the official worldwide taxonomy. This is extremely important for it enables scientists from all over the world to know genetically which strain they are using. Thus knowledge builds upon knowledge as we all can grow and learn together. This way newly discovered attributes and benefits for a particular bacteria can be properly documented for all to see. This is the way the human genome was fully typed in record time by scientist from all over the world, openly communicating their relevant human genetic code discoveries for all to capitalize on.
The bacteria we use for our L. acidophilus in our American Collection of synbiotic products (I will talk more about our collection of strains in the clinical notes below) has the same genotype as the L. acidophilus ATCC 4356—that’s ATCC’s catalogue number. Using this number one can look up its spec sheet where is true universal name is listed, which is L. acidophilus Scav. We are licensed with ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) to buy organisms. They maintain the largest collection of prokaryotic organisms in the world. The advantage of buying directly from a repository is you know the true strain designation for the bacteria you are buying.
There are also the major commercial corporations mentioned earlier plus a number of small growers and various brokers who keep the true strain identity of their bacteria as a trade secret, giving instead their own unique corporate strain name—they consider it their intellectual property because they have invested millions in research. Therefore, the bug gets a corporate name at the strain and sometimes species level as well. Lactobacillus GG and Lactobacillus actavis serve as species level aliases in place of the real scientific naming and the examples that I sited above in the beginning of this newsletter show strain naming modifications.
All of this is standard operating procedure. What species or strains are the corporation really selling? Of course, one can have the organisms typed to find out their true genetic identity and scientific name, but what corporation are really trying to do is claim ownership of a bacteria—as though they discovered it, researched it, and now have claiming rights. It’s a life form not something they’ve made. If you study a tree, you may name it after yourself, but it doesn’t become the botanical name for the tree, and, you do not own it! This ownership of life is a monetary strategy right out of Monsanto’s play book. It’s a dangerous practice to allow to propagate—dangerous to the very diversity of life. We have discussed the importance of diversity in our other emails and will converse about it again!
And, finally you can grow your own. Let’s say you offer a probiotic supplement containing L. acidophilus for your patients to consume, and they do very well on it. Their symptoms improve, so you decide to collect a stool sample from your improved patients in order to culture and identify the various microbes present. Upon identifying the Lactobacillus, you can isolate it, rename it, calling it a human strain and use your own corporate naming system for its new strain designation. For example let’s say your company name is ABC, then you might give your bacteria the new name L. acidophilus ABC01. This is what companies who grow bacteria for sale do for the most part, conceiving of this practice as protecting their intellectual property.
Each grower maintains their own collection of probiotic organisms they have collected over time. Similar to a farmer collecting and saving their seeds. Just as nature stores the rich diversity of life in its seeds, so too is the diversity of life’s capabilities stored in bacterial genomes. Biodiversity is a very important concept to keep in mind when one considers the health of the biosphere. Our friends the probiotic organisms play a vital role in our health, and to think that one strain will give you the ticket to health is a corporate illusion propagated for companies to capture the probiotic market, saying things like “ours is the best and most uniquely superior strain.” It takes a community of good bacteria in our gut to make for a healthy human being. No one strain is the deal breaker for our health. If that were the case we would have gone extinct long ago. There is much redundancy of function in the human microbiome (collection of all bugs in and on a human being) in a healthy gut, and I will pick up on the thread of this conversation in future newsletters as it is a very important topic to chew on.
So what about our probiotics, what’s their name and why do they perform?
See Clinical Notes below.
The bacterial growing companies that we collaborate with for our probiotic organisms maintain their own cherished collections of bacteria. Organisms that they have worked with over the years—collections that they continually add to. We like to say that we have our American Collection and our Bulgarian Collection because they represent different collections derived from scientists in their respective countries. I am linking you here to our website library and the monographs on the Original Synbiotic Formula which highlights our America Collection and gives you strain designations, and the Supernatant Synbiotic Formula highlighting our Bulgarian Collection.
The Horned Frog is an ambush predator. It can squeeze its fat body into the forest substrate or into the leaf litter on the bottom of the forest floor, so that only the head shows. When anything that is smaller than their own body happens by, they will instantly grasp it in very sharp teeth lock it into their jaws and swallow it whole, after springing from the mud with a giant leap. Amazon Horned Frogs are aggressive and extremely territorial, viciously defending their personal territory and they are nothing if not voracious in their appetites. Some Horned frogs have been found dead with the remains of an animal it was impossible for them to swallow still sticking out from their jaws, that were clasped around it, and many times they attempt to swallow something at least as large as they are, and being unable to swallow, or to let go of it, both become victims to the Horned frogs greed.