Probiotics are everywhere and in everything, from teas to bread. Every day on social media and online, you can see ads for them everywhere. All of them screaming “Our probiotic is the best; it has 57,000 different types of bacteria and 50 bijillion of them.” They're like the guy who can’t stop talking about big his you-know-what is.
The fact of the matter, though, is that almost none of them are actually unique, other than the fancy marketing.
Here is a little inside-industry knowledge. Over 90% of probiotics you see come from just a handful of culture houses. Basically, these big companies grow a bunch of bacteria in giant vats, isolate, and blend them in various amounts and bacterial species. Dupont, the makers of Teflon and the company behind the Bhopal disaster, is the largest. Then they offer these formulas to supplement companies who buy them, slap their label on the bottles, and then go to town advertising how much better their probiotics are than that other guy who is essentially selling the same thing. Sure, they sometimes throw a spec of prebiotic or something else that looks good on the label, but their fairy dusting and tinkering around the edges really does not change the fact that, by and large, most of these products are essentially the same.
In our search for the ultimate probiotic, we looked at probably thousands of products. Label after label and marketing material after marketing material. They are all pretty much the same thing over and over.
Meg Meg, after looking at labels for a half-hour. She is not super helpful.
So what were we actually looking for in a probiotic?
Well, firstly, we wanted it to be a fermented whole-food product. The best way to get lots of good probiotics in their optimal form is with whole foods. Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, beet kvass, miso, etc, are the best sources of probiotics. Nearly every culture around the world has its own version. The probiotics grow naturally in the foods as they ferment. So we wanted a probiotic that mimicked the way humans have been getting these incredible bacteria and yeasts throughout our history. These probiotics would be sourced from organic whole foods that were fermented for at least three weeks (not just a couple of hours), similar to how long it takes to make fermented foods like sauerkraut.
We wanted it to have sufficient amounts of whole-food prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food that probiotics eat. Too many products contain a pinch of various heavily refined ingredients like fos or inulin. These are not the same thing as real whole foods. There needed to be enough of them as well. Putting twenty-five milligrams of processed sugar is not going to cut it as a food source for your probiotics, but it makes for great label padding. When ingesting these bacteria, they need good amounts of a variety of foods to thrive. These foods also help to protect them from the harsh environment of the stomach and digestive secretions. Imagine if you were dropped off in a hostile place and all you had to eat was some white bread. You might not die, but you are certainly not going to thrive. So we wanted a product that had good amounts of a variety of whole foods so that they would flourish.
We wanted it to have plenty of postbiotics. Postbiotics are beneficial compounds that are produced when the bacteria and yeasts feed on the prebiotics. Many products claim to have these, but they are in such small amounts as to not be of any actual benefit. Postibiotics are compounds such as lactic acid and butyric acid. Our ideal probiotic product would have lots of these important compounds in amounts that were actually effective.
We wanted it to be certified organic and ethically produced. If there were lots of whole foods in the product, we wanted to make sure they were grown without synthetic pesticides and herbicides in a sustainable way, as well as make sure the farmers were paid a fair price for their work. In addition, we wanted to make sure the probiotic cultures did not come from a company like Dupont.
We wanted it to have good amounts of live and active bacteria. There needed to be enough bacteria to actually have a beneficial effect. Most probiotics are freeze-dried (freeze-drying is great for a lot of foods, but not so great for probiotics) in order to put them into a dormant state. Then when they hit the moisture in the digestive tract, they are supposed to come back to life. The problem with this is that often they do not. So while a product may claim to have 50 billion bacteria, it does not mean that all of them will actually be active when they get in your gut. The freeze-drying process often damages the cell wall and many of the bacteria are not able to revive after the drying process. Even with the addition of various cryoprotectant agents, less than twenty percent of freeze-dried probiotics are viable after freeze-drying. That means in many products, for every 100 billion bacteria they claim to have, less than 20 billion will actually be viable. So the numbers on the bottle, even if testing shows they are in there, are not representative of how many live bacteria will be delivered to your gut. We wanted the bacteria to be live, active, viable, and reproducing in the bottle. This could only happen if they were still in their culture medium and dried in a way that did not damage their cell walls because they would need to be able to continue eating so they did not die. This brings us to our next point.
We wanted happy bacteria that were ready to party.
We wanted bacterial diversity. When we eat Lacto-fermented foods, there are lots of different bacteria, not just three or four types. A wide variety of beneficial bacteria helps to ensure that our gut can thrive. Think of a garden and how much better a variety of plants do together and how much more beneficial they are versus monoculture farming.
The bacteria needed to be left in their intact colonies. Bacteria naturally grow in colonies. Nearly all probiotics on the market use cultures that were centrifuged, which breaks up the colonies and separates them from the culture medium. This allows the companies to produce a cheaper product with higher counts of bacteria, but those bacteria are significantly weaker than those left in their intact colony structure and culture medium. So finding a probiotic that respected the way that bacteria naturally grow was incredibly important. While listing huge numbers of bacteria is great for marketing, it does not a better product make.
Next up, we wanted the bacteria to be stress tested. When you ingest probiotics, they are headed into a war zone. Stomach acid, digestive secretions, bad bacteria, poor food choices, and so much more are waiting for them. The probiotics have to be strong enough to withstand the onslaught. That’s where stress testing comes in. Most probiotics are not tested to show they survive harsh conditions, so how do we know they actually survive in the gut? We wanted cultures that were properly stress tested. Ideally, the bacteria would be exposed to a variety of pH levels, various acids, temperature changes, and a variety of other compounds that normally kill them to ensure that the weaker bacteria die off and only the stronger ones survive the process.
We wanted the product to be shelf-stable. Most probiotics that you see in the fridge in stores were not stored or shipped refrigerated. They are just put in the fridge after they get to the store. What passes for refrigerated shipping at most companies is just an ice pack in a box. That is not the same as true refrigerated shipping. So we wanted a product that was stable at room temperature and did not require special handling. This would also make it much easier to travel with. It would need to be tested to show that the bacteria were still viable at temperatures that normally occur during shipping, from winter cold to summer heat.
Finally, we wanted every batch to be third-party tested to ensure that it had the bacteria (types and amounts) it claimed to and that these amounts would be present through the expiration date at the recommended storage conditions. In addition, we wanted the testing to show it was free of contaminants.
While this seems like a long wish list, we were not looking for your run-of-the-mill probiotic; we wanted something truly special. Something that would truly support the health of the people taking it by improving their own unique microbiome, not just to help with symptoms. We wanted something that supported small, organic farmers, not big chemical companies.
We started our search in the United States, but we did not find any products that checked all of the boxes. We were not going to be satisfied with just some of them; we wanted the whole enchilada.
After a very long and exhausting process, we found a small New Zealand company that managed to check all the boxes.
New Zealanders Partying
Immunity Fuel is made much differently than traditional probiotic products. A unique blend of organic prebiotic foods is fermented for three weeks. During that time, fourteen beneficial bacteria and yeasts are exposed to a variety of temperatures, pH levels, and various stressors to ensure that only the strong ones survive. This process cost over 2.5 million dollars and took eighteen years to develop and perfect. Years of exposure to various stressors have forced an evolution of the bacteria, which helps them to be resistant to many of the things that would normally kill probiotics. Throughout the fermentation process, a variety of tests are performed to ensure that everything is progressing properly.
Immunity Fuel’s prebiotic blend provides a rich food source for the bacteria, which not only nourishes them but helps to protect them on the perilous journey through your gut. Each serving provides nearly three grams (3,000 milligrams) of organic prebiotic foods. This is far in excess of traditional probiotic products, which often provide only a very small amount of heavily refined prebiotics. Probiotics combined with prebiotics are sometimes referred to as synbiotics.
During the fermentation, the bacteria and yeasts transform the sugars and fibers found in the prebiotic foods into beneficial postbiotics. These compounds have a wide array of benefits in supporting gut and immune function. Unlike other companies, which may add tiny amounts of isolated postibiotics, Immunity Fuel leaves them intact in the culture medium, so you get the full benefits.
After the fermentation process, the probiotics and culture medium are gently solar-dried. Solar drying allows the finished product to retain nearly all of its nutritional value without negatively impacting the probiotics. Unlike freeze-drying, the bacteria are still in their active state, and their cell walls are not damaged. After drying, the powder is third-party tested for bacterial count and contamination. Then the powder is bottled or encapsulated. No centrifuging or heavy processing is done.
We are so excited to be able to offer this incredible probiotic. The journey may have taken us a long time, but it was well worth it. Finding a probiotic that would deliver real health benefits, not just great marketing, is an accomplishment we are so proud of. So, if you are looking for a unique, raw, fermented, whole-food probiotic complex, complete with large amounts of prebiotics and postbiotics, then Immunity Fuel is for you!
Make sure to check out our gut health center for more great information on building a healthy gut.