The human body carries nearly 100 trillion bacteria in the gut…that’s more than 10 times the total number of human cells in the entire body.

Probiotics are those “good” bacteria that help keep the intestines healthy and assist in digestion and nutrient absorption. Researchers are also finding evidence that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system(1,2). In fact, the gut accounts for 25% of the immune cells in the body which provides 50% of the body’s immune response.

Probiotics work to help maintain balance in the intestinal microbiota. By enhancing the intestinal flora, these microorganisms may have a larger effect in terms of keeping people in good health. Understanding the type and quantity of microorganisms in the gut has become a critical goal in the pursuit of overall wellness.

Recent research on the microbiome has shown that its influence extends far beyond the gut, playing a crucial role in both our digestive and immune systems. In fact, studies are showing the microbiome’s role in such areas as brain health, memory and even mental health. Consumers today have the ability to influence their gut microbiota like never before– from supplements to food, people are seeking sources of good bacteria.

Probiotic Strains: Spore and Non-Spore Formers

The majority of probiotics currently available are bacteria which are non-spore formers, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. These probiotic strains have been widely studied for their health benefits and are a popular choice for use in dietary supplements or cold-processed foods, such as yogurt.

Spore forming bacteria are a diverse group of very hardy bacteria, characterized by their ability to form endospores to protect themselves in varying conditions such as high temperatures and the acidic environment of the gut. The Bacillus subtilis species of microorganism has been known for almost 100 years, having first been isolated and described in 1915. It is considered to be a normal inhabitant of the gut in animals and humans(3).

Bacillus subtilis has the ability to form spores that protect the microbes from harsh conditions until they enter an environment ripe for germination, such as the GI tract. Because of this spore-forming ability, Bacillus subtilus offers additional benefits as a probiotic:

  • Remains viable under a wide temperature range, doesn’t require refrigeration(4)
  • Survives passage through the acidic environment of the GI tract(5)
  • Can persist in the GI tract increase its numbers and then re-sporulate(6)
  • Supports the normal immune reaction of intestinal cells(7,8)
  • Crowds out bacterial pathogens and maintains healthy gut flora(9,10)
  • Communicates with intestinal cells to maintain gut barrier function(11)

Each type and strain of probiotic, spore and non-spore forming, performs a different role with particular benefits in terms of digestion and immunity, as well as where in the GI tract they act. Multi-strain probiotic supplements provide a broad spectrum of benefits.

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    1. Fiorini G, Cimminiello C, Chianese R. II B. subtilis come stimolatore selettivo delle IgA linfocitarie di membrana. Farmaci. 1985;9:331–334.
    2. Meroni P L, Palmieri R, Barcellini W, De Bartolo G, Zanussi C. Effect of long-term treatment with B. subtilis on the frequency of urinary tract infections in older patients. Chemioterapia. 1983;2:142–144.
    3. Novelli A, Ulivelli A, Reali E F, Mannelli F, Trombi-Belcari L, Spezia R, Periti P. Bacillus subtilis spores as a natural pro-host oral agent. Preliminary data in children. Chemioterapia. 1984;3:152–155.
    4. Holtmann, G. & Bremer, E. (2004). Thermoprotection of Bacillus subtilis by exogenously provided glycine betaine and structurally related compatible solutes: involvement of the Opu transporters. J Bacteriol 186, 1683–1693.
    5. Leser, T.D., Knarreborg, A. and Worm, J. (2008), Germination and outgrowth of Bacillus subtilis andBacillus licheniformis spores in the gastrointestinal tract of pigs. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 104: 1025–1033. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2007.03633.x (ACIDIC)
    6. Tam, Nguyen K. M. et al. “The Intestinal Life Cycle of Bacillus Subtilis and Close Relatives.” Journal of Bacteriology 188.7 (2006): 2692–2700. PMC. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
    7. Bonomo R, Luzi G, Frielingsdorf A, Aiuti F. Ruolo delle IgA secretorie nelle funzioni dell’immunita locale dell’apparato digerente. Impiego di spore di B. subtilis in alcune forme morbose con deficit di IgA e ipogammaglobulinemia. Chemioter Antimicrob. 1980;3:237–240.
    8. Ciprandi G, Scordamaglia A, Venuti D, Caria M, Canonica G W. In vitro effects of Bacillus subtilis on the immune response. Chemioterapia. 1986;5:404–407.
    9. Vacca A, Pantaleo G, Ronco M, Dammacco F. Chemoimmunotherapy for multiple myeloma using an intermittent combination drug schedule (melphalan + prednisone) and alternating course of B. subtilis spores. Chemioterapia. 1983;2:300–305.
    10. Mazza P. The use of Bacillus subtilis as an antidiarrhoeal microorganism. Boll Chim Farm. 1994;133:3–18.
    11. Thomas, Carissa M, and James Versalovic. “Probiotics-Host Communication: Modulation of Signaling Pathways in the Intestine.” Gut Microbes 1.3 (2010): 148–163. PMC. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.