Soil-Based Probiotics Unraveled 1

Probiotics are live bacteria, but perhaps not the bacterium you studied in high school. These are live bacteria and yeasts that are inside you right now, as you read this page. Don't worry, they're quite safe. In fact, they're not only beneficial to human health but essential. You can find lots of fascinating information on these complex colonies of bacteria here.

Probiotic Soil-Based Organisms

SBO stands for soil-based organism. This is a term used to describe a new strain of probiotic supplements that's exciting researchers. The actual SBOs are bacteria that, as the name suggests, come from the soil. They more or less do for plants what probiotic foods do for humans, which is:

  • Break down plant material
  • Produce vitamins
  • Combat pathogens (things that can cause disease)

It's a little more complex than that but this pretty much explains the role of SBOs and probiotics in a nutshell. People with gardens often use some kind of organic fertilizer on their vegetable patch. This fertilizer contains soil-based organisms to increase its fertility.

Soil-based bacteria also go by the name spore-forming bacteria. What makes them special is their ability to “seed” the digestive system with friendly bacteria. This bacterium then gets to flourish and support a balanced microbiota. The microbiota is a collection of microorganisms that colonize your body. Once in the gastrointestinal tract, this bacterium supports a healthy immune system and assists better digestion.

Special Characteristics of SBO Probiotics

The structure of SBOs makes them quite unique. What's more is that some experts claim they're superior to probiotics from food. To begin with, the environment of the upper digestive tract and stomach is a harsh one. Soil-based organisms are naturally resistant to this inhospitable environment. SBOs are also very stable. What this means is that they don’t need any special coatings or preservatives to ensure they get delivered to the appropriate areas of the gut. Other forms of probiotics do. This unique stability is thanks to a natural shell that protects the probiotic spore against damage and destruction [1].

What Healthy Soil Can Tell Us About SBO

To understand how the good-to-bad bacteria balance works, look no further than the soil beneath your feet. Without healthy soil there can be no healthy plants. Moreover, soil is the substance from where all plant life thrives or falls, depending on its state. Healthy soil includes plenty of organic matter. It delivers nutrients and the basis for plants to take root and grow. When plants flourish so do all the other life forms that rely on those plants for food and habitat.

Good, healthy soil comprises the following:

  • Lots of nutrients (food), the more the better
  • The right balance of healthy bacteria (high population of organisms)
  • Stores moisture well
  • Warms easily in the spring
  • Free from ” chemical” fertilizers
  • Has a rich, earthy smell

Soil that meets the above criteria is able to grow healthy, robust plants that are resistant to disease. To put it another way, the plant life that grows in healthy soil is full of vitality. It's easy to recognize healthy plants by looking at the state of their leaves when they should be out.

When Soil Falls Short

Soil that falls short of these favorable conditions will be out of balance. Poor soil is often a result of the presence of unfriendly, harmful bacteria. This means the soil contains things like yeasts, molds and various other harmful pathogens. The result is plants that are weak and susceptible to rot and rapid decay. Nature is smart and she makes the best decisions whenever she can. She wastes nothing and knows exactly what is needed to create a healthy environment for life.

Good soil contains certain microorganisms that work at keeping unfriendly bacteria at bay. If they weren't present in the soil, life would cease to exist. It's as simple as that. In nature, soil-based organisms are the first line of defense. Aside from keeping pathogenic, bacteria under control, they also pave the way for the friendly bacteria to grow and flourish [2].

Advocates and Skeptics

Until the science is conclusive there will always be advocates and skeptics. This goes for anything, not only SBOs. The advocates believe that SBOs are special probiotics that can offer lots of health benefits to humans. They don't doubt that soil-based organisms help to boost the immune system. They believe they help to stimulate white blood cell production and antibodies. They also think that SBOs assist in the normalization of bowel function and increase our resistance to harmful bacteria and fungi. For the advocates, these things are not debatable, they're logical conclusions. They base their beliefs on what they understand. In other words, they draw their own conclusions based on the science so far.

While there are certain things that we know to be true, there is always some wiggle room when it comes to science. Or at least there's room for debate until the research is conclusive.

The skeptics are not so convinced on the human health benefits of SBOs. They don't believe the soil-based organisms can work with the gut flora that lives within us. The reason for their doubts is that they think the spore-forming nature of SBOs proliferate too fast. Because of this, the doubters suggest it “competes with” not compliments our resident “good” bacteria. Skeptics feel that these organisms can over-grow and become too dominant and potentially pathogenic. Or to put it another way, they think SBOs may materialize into something that can hurt us rather than help or heal us [3].

Sometimes, when people choose to believe in something it can be hard to change their minds, even with new science and discoveries. One of the problems with science is that even it can change. What can happen is that a new research study comes out that turns what scientists knew, or thought they knew, up on its head. This is both the downside and the beauty of the scientific world. As you continue to read through this piece, you will see just how convincing arguments can be on both sides of the divide.

Clinical Trials

Soil-based organisms are not without their trials. In fact, there have been quite a few official clinical tests done on SBOs. Most of these have been set up to examine the usefulness of SBOs in the treatment of digestive disorders and bacterial imbalances.

The 2005 Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Study

There was an independent placebo-controlled, double-blind study done in 2005. The medical journal, Clinical Therapeutics, published the end results of this trial. Scientists examined the use of Prescript-Assist® (P-A) soil-based probiotics for the treatment of IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Here’s what they found: within two weeks of starting the course of probiotics, patients described significant improvements for the main symptoms related with IBS. Around 60 weeks later the scientists did a follow-up study. They examined the same patients and found that most of them had since moved on to a lower dosage of probiotics. They also found that between 81.5 – 100 percent of patients were in remission from IBS. The researchers concluded that Prescript-Assist treatment was associated with both short-term reductions in IBS symptoms and year-long IBS remissions.

SBO Usage Is Nothing New

What some of the skeptics don't know is that the use of SBO is nothing new. It's not so much a case of SBOs being a new discovery as it is them making a comeback. Sure scientists are finding out new stuff all the time, but we've known about some of the benefits of SBOs for humans for a long time. Certain countries around the world used soil-based organisms safely for many years. A few others never stopped using them. One of these microorganisms, Bacillus Subtilis, saw extensive use in the 1950s and 60s all over North America. The Americans used it as a simple way to stimulate the immune system and to treat various digestive disorders.

Eventually, the popularity of SBOs declined soon after the introduction of antibiotics. Looking back now, this didn't make a lot of sense. For example, SBOs where known to be effective simply because they worked. Furthermore, they came with fewer side effects than some of the antibiotics used to treat similar conditions. The old adage: “If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it,” comes to mind.

Germany and other parts of Europe still use SBO to this day as an effective treatment for gastrointestinal disorders. According to a 2011 research study, soil-based organisms proved to also be a powerful antifungal, especially against Candida Albicans. This was a huge discovery, not least because Candida Albicans is becoming an ever more common health concern. It is what scientists call an opportunistic fungus (form of yeast).  Candida Albicans can cause many undesirable symptoms in its victims, ranging from joint pains to gas and fatigue to weight gain.

From what we know, SBOs have shown to be stable and safe, and tolerated by most patients. The only people who should avoid taking soil-based probiotics are pregnant women and those who have an impaired immune system [4].

Full Range of Benefits

There is growing evidence to support the opinion that soil-based organisms are beneficial to human health. Nonetheless, “growing evidence” is not the same thing as conclusive proof. Some of the research is conclusive, but other trials are ongoing or have yet to be set up.

Here are a few of the reported benefits for SBOs (in no particular order):

  • Enhances metabolism within the gut
  • Gives support for balancing gut microbiota
  • Gives support for intestinal regeneration
  • Help to reduce the buildup of gas and bloating
  • Helps to balance colon pH
  • Helps to prevent gut colonization by harmful bacteria and fungi
  • Helps to replenish friendly microflora in the the large intestine
  • Improves GI-tract barrier function
  • Improves immune system function
  • Improves overall gastrointestinal health
  • Increases resistance to harmful bacteria and fungi
  • Increases the absorption of nutrients in the intestines
  • Promotes and normalizes bowel function
  • Supports overall health and wellbeing

The health benefit claims for SBOs go beyond the above list, but these are the most common [5].

What the Critics Say

Most of the new studies that come out on SBOs are glowing insomuch as they highlight the wonderful benefits of these remarkable microbes. Now couple this with a growing public awareness of the importance of maintaining good gut health. It’s easy to see how “SBO” is the new buzz term. In general, public view tends to go with the majority opinion. In the case of soil-based organisms, there's certainly more chatter on the benefits than there is on any drawbacks. However, that doesn't mean there are no downsides, or “potential” disadvantages because there are.

SBOs Are Different

Yes soil-based organisms come under the same category as those probiotics in your digestive tract. But no, that doesn't make them the same thing. To put that into some perspective, SBOs are spores that come from the earth, and only the earth. This means your body is not their natural habitat. They are, to all intents and purposes, microscopic dirt dwellers, and there lies the controversy. But should this really matter? After all, cow's milk is for baby calves right. Yet we humans have been drinking that for eons, and often for its health benefits. The point is this: just because some food, beverage or substance is not natural to us, that doesn't mean it is not good for us, or does it.

OK, let's look at the controversy surrounding SBOs a little closer.

The Soil Microbes, Gut Microbes Debate

No one disputes that SBOs have shown to be beneficial to humans in small amounts. But what some dispute is the effectiveness of SBO supplements once inside the body. The reason for the debate is clear: SBOs are different from probiotics found naturally in the human gut. They're not even similar in their role.

The sole purpose for SBOs is to enrich the soil and help nourish plant life, not human life. We eat many plant foods and get plenty of nutrients into our system from a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and veggies.

Before the world caught “germ-phobia,” kids used to roll around in dirt all the time. They would often arrive home covered in filth after school, especially the boys. Scientists think that this “incidental exposure” to SBOs helped to enhance the immune system. Those of you who are 50 years of age and older will remember how the kids of yesteryear used to play around in the muck. They were fitter and stronger than the kids of today too. Nowadays, youngsters seem to catch every little bug going. Some experts put this down to a weakening immune system caused by an overly sterile environment.

Additionally, about one hundred years ago, soil-based organisms were normal components in our food. This is no longer the case for the following reasons:

  • Urbanization and huge changes to lifestyle
  • A much higher intake of processed food

Changes to lifestyle and eating habits have played a part. These changes have pretty much eliminated soil-based organisms from the modern western-style diet. They have seen our natural gut flora deteriorate too. In short, the way many of us live today is perhaps doing us more harm than it is good.

How Things Used to Be

A couple of generations ago SBOs were temporary yet welcome visitors to the human microbiome. Although they were helpful, they have never been essential. Moreover, since people don't expose themselves to SBOs anymore, our gut microbiomes are no longer familiar with them. What this means, according to the experts, is that they can compete with our resident gut flora rather than complement it. This is why some believe SBOs can turn out to be pathogenic in some people in certain cases [6].

The Conclusion

If our gut flora is out of whack, it needs redressing as soon as possible. This is something that no one disagrees with of course. But the argument is to redress any imbalance with probiotics that are supposed to be in the human digestive tract, not with those that aren't.

There's a lot of positive chatter going on about the health benefits and the safety of SBOs. In truth, the jury is still out until we know more. It might turn out that SBOs are just what the doctor ordered, but what if the naysayers are right. The debate goes on, and there's plenty to consider. The more you know, the more able you are to make a better informed decision based on your own intuition.



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One thought on “Soil-Based Probiotics Unraveled

  • Jennifer Alexander

    Not comforting to compare them to drinking cows milk. Too much has come forth about the negative health impacts of that.