When discussing probiotics, the term “human strains” is a rather vague one. It typically refers to a probiotic strain that is originally derived from the human body.

Are human strains superior?

The scientific definition of a probiotic ("A live microorganism which when administered in adequate amounts confers a health benefit on the host" ) does not stipulate that the microbe must have a human origin, or be a “human strain”. Probiotics must be able to exert their benefits on the host through growth and/or activity in the human body (Collins et al., 1998; Morelli, 2000). It is therefore the action, and not the source of the probiotic microorganism that is a key factor in choosing a probiotic. The ability of a probiotic strain to remain viable at the target site and to be effective in the human gut should always be verified and tested.

Saccharomyces boulardii
Saccharomyces boulardii, originally extracted from fruit
There are in fact many examples of effective probiotic strains which are not recognised as normal residents of the human gastrointestinal tract. For example, Saccharomyces boulardii, originally extracted from fruit, could not be described as a “human strain”, and yet this probiotic yeast has been shown in numerous clinical trials[1] to benefit human consumers. In fact it is one of the best established probiotics on the market today, with reams of clinical research behind it - especially demonstrating its ability to support health in those with conditions such as inflammation or diarrhoea.

When deciding the superiority of a probiotic, the most logical area to focus on is the research behind it. Has this specific strain been tested and shown to survive through stomach acidity? Has it been tested and shown to have an ability to bind to the cells of the gut wall? And better still, has this strain been tested in a clinical setting - ie. consumed by humans, preferably in a placebo-controlled, randomised and gold standard clinical trial - and shown to have a health benefit?

There is no existing scientific evidence to show that human strains are more capable of binding to the gut wall lining, or colonising the gut, or exerting a health benefit - than 'non human' strains. As mentioned above, some of the best researched probiotic strains, such as S. boulardii, do not have a human origin.

At OptiBac Probiotics, whilst many of our strains are of a human origin, we do not consider the question of “human strain” to be a relevant criterion for selecting an effective probiotic.

Probiotic Myths: BUSTED

As probiotics are still a relatively novel area of human health, many misconceptions (such as the idea that human strains are better than non human strains) exist regarding what determines a high quality probiotic. If you are finding this an interesting read, you may enjoy browsing our Probiotic Myths: BUSTED pages which dispel some of the most common misconceptions, using evidence and clinical research to do so.

When it comes to probiotics, always go with scientific research as opposed to hearsay

The origin of a probiotic strain: does it matter?

Still unsure? As touched on above, the 'origin' of a probiotic strain refers to the place it was originally isolated (eg. human gut, fruit, dairy, kefir etc). However this does not necessarily mean the strain in question can only be found in that place, and it certainly does not mean that the bacteria in your supplement was taken directly from that original source.

There are 2 points to bear in mind here:

1. Many of the strains which we use as probiotics today were identified, isolated and 'banked' many years ago, meaning that the bacteria in your supplement are many 'generations' on from the original one isolated some years prior.

The bacteria in your supplement are not taken from the original source every time they need to be fermented and encapsulated. Swabs are instead taken from the bacteria bank where the strain is registered, and cultured from there.

2. Since then, scientists have discovered that many of these strains are in fact found in other places too, and are not limited to where they were originally found. A microbiologist recently asked the question 'if we eat bacteria in dairy, are those strains now found in humans too?'

  • It is important to remember that bacteria are all around us, and that we are continuously influenced by the bacteria in our environment.

Looking as far back as the origin of a strain is of little significance when seeking a probiotic. It's a bit like looking for Lactobacillus acidophilus and failing to consider the importance of a specific strain within the acidophilus species. Detail is important when it comes to probiotics - and 'origins', or 'human strains' are vague and sometimes unknown.

Dairy intolerance or allergy

NB. For those concerned about dairy sensitivities, whilst origin is not relevant, the culture may be more so. Some of the OptiBac Probiotics range use dairy as part of the culture, and therefore may contain small traces of dairy and are not recommended for vegans or those who are severely allergic to dairy. However we do recommend the whole range for those who are lactose intolerant, as the amount of dairy is negligible, and probiotics aid the digestion of lactose. For further clarification, please see 'Are the OptiBac supplements dairy free or vegan?' or the FAQs.

For more information on the OptiBac Probiotics strains, see Our Probiotic Strains.

Notes:
  1. McFarland, L. V. & Bernasconi, P. (1993) Saccharomyces boulardii: A review of an innovative biotherapeutic agent. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease; Vol. 6. pp. 157-171.

Comments

  • Dear Sir, Madam

    I am seeking the human equivalent of B. longum NCC2705 or B. bifidum S17

    Your advice?

    Thanks,

    Binah

  • Dear Binah,

    Thank you for your question.
    Unfortunately, these aren't strains that we carry in our product range, and as far as I'm aware they're not currently available as probiotic supplements.

    It's worth bearing in mind that the strains of bacteria used in probiotic food supplements are not directly sourced from human faecal samples; they will just be strains that were originally extracted during the early research into probiotics from healthy human stool samples. Representatives from these strains have then been stored in microbiology banks, and from these original samples, new bacteria can be cultured under laboratory conditions using an appropriate fermentation medium such as dairy, soy, barley or other foodstuff.

    Wishing you the best of health,

    Kerry

  • Do you make a probiotic supplement with dairy and fruit origin only (not human).

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Dear Nancy,

    Thank you for your enquiry.

    Yes, we have a range of probiotics that contain strains that are purely dairy/fruit origin. The probiotics in our range that are free from strains that are of human origin are 'Saccharomyces boulardii', 'Bifidobacteria & fibre', 'For those on antibiotics' and 'For travelling abroad'.

    I would also like to point out that, the strains of human origin used in our products as well as other probiotic supplements are not sourced directly from human faeces. The strains would originally have been extracted from faecal samples and stored, very early on during the research into the strain. In some cases, the strains would have been stored in laboratory storage facilities for decades. These ‘human’ strains now used in supplements will have since been cultured in laboratories on fermentation mediums like dairy, barley and soy; now they are identified and classified by scientists there is no need to source them from human faeces.

    I hope this answers your question. If you do require any further information then please
    feel free to send these via the contact form on the website, or send us an email on [email protected]

    Kind regards,

    Naomi


Write a comment