Human Strain Probiotics
Over the years, we’ve received many emails from our customers asking just about every question under the sun with regards to probiotics (keep them coming, we’re happy to help you!). Very recently, one of our customers wrote in asking us to explain the meaning of Human Strain Probiotics, what are the sources of Natren probiotics and particularly, where are they cultured? She was deeply concerned with contamination and even more troubled that the strains may have been cultured from human sources. While we’ve reassured her that the bacteria used to culture our probiotics are obtained from an International Culture Bank, this is a topic that needs clarity. Natren’s probiotics are not formulated from donor tissue whether human or animal. There seems to be a general misunderstanding about the meaning of “Human Strain” probiotics and we’d like to share our response to the customer.
What is the Original Source?
Probiotics are live organisms that keep our gut working and despite the term “human strain” there are no humans or human byproducts involved (well, other than the amazing team of employees who keep Natren operating, but you get our point, right?). These organisms are the same species that naturally reside in our gut and they have already adapted to the human GI tract, hence the term Human Strain. However, the source of the original culture is countless of generations removed from ever having been in contact with anything human. Unfortunately, the “origin” definition has been misinterpreted by many into thinking that if the bacteria is collected from a human, it’s now of “human origin”. When, in actuality, bacteria is everywhere and can be collected from any surface, grown and isolated in a laboratory so that none of the surface from where the bacteria was originally collected remains – making it difficult to define the original source.
Our First Exposure
What we do know is that we are constantly exposed to bacteria throughout our lifetime and it has evolved along with us. Our everyday lifestyle, from how we entered the world, our westernized diet, and modern medicine, have all impacted the diversity of our gut microbes. Realistically, the origins of bacteria begin with our first exposure to bacteria. Colonization of the infant’s gut occurs in the womb when the developing child swallows amniotic fluid, how the child comes into this world (vaginal vs. C-section) and how the infant is nourished (breast milk vs. formula fed). It’s also been well documented that certain molecules in the mother’s breast milk can only be digested by a certain bacteria, B. infantis, in the infant’s gut. The baby does not have the ability to completely break down the mother’s milk without B. infantis. Breast milk feeds this bacteria so that it can break down in order for the baby to digest it more easily. The breast milk stimulates the growth of this bacteria in the infant’s gut and the two have co-evolved together. Our Life Start line of probiotics are formulated with B. infantis and designed specifically for infants and breastfeeding mothers.
As a baby grows and begins to eat different types of food, the bacteria in their digestive tract adapt in order to assist with the digestion of their changing diet. It makes sense that as a child grows and is exposed to new things, the diversity of bacteria in their gut changes as well. Have you ever wondered why babies put everything in their mouth? It’s possible there’s actually a very important exposure process taking place there! Many scientists talk about the behaviour of young children (infants to about 3 years old) promoting their exposure to microbes beginning with breastfeeding from mom’s skin to crawling and playing with their feet and hands. As you can see, it makes it difficult to pinpoint where bacteria originated since we’re constantly exposed to bacteria throughout our lifetime. Does that make the bacteria human in origin? Or did they come from our environment? What we do know is that all of our probiotic species can be found in the human digestive tract at various stages throughout a human’s life.