Probiotics and Stomach Acid

A question I frequently get is about probiotics and how to protect these possibly beneficial bugs from the very harsh stomach acid. There is more to this question than meets the eye, so let’s look at several parts of the probiotic picture. First, probiotics are bacteria, present in yogurt, other dairy products and pills. The hope is that these probiotics will establish a presence in the lower gut and render beneficial health effects.

Probiotics Are Live Organisms

Dysbiosis: The Reason You’re Not Losing WeightAs such they can live or die under a variety of circumstances. One such circumstance is time. Some bacteria make spores which can live for many years and then blossom and grow. Most probiotics do not make spores, so they gradually die off if they do not find a comfortable place to grow, meaning a moist, warm, friendly environment like the colon. However, when a probiotic sits on a shelf in a store, the bugs gradually die. The longer they are in a warehouse or on a store shelf the fewer live bacteria will be present. Refrigeration likely prolongs the life of probiotics but we don’t know for which ones and for how long. Most manufacturers will not tell you.

We also don’t know which ones our bodies need. A good bacterial strain for one person may not be as effective for another. When you consume probiotics, you’re hoping the bacteria you consume is the bacteria your unique gut needs.

Yogurt and Probiotics

You can be sure that yogurt and other such dairy products have fresh, live bacteria in them. Plus, it is refrigerated. These are two good things. However, we do not know how many bacteria are in a serving and manufacturers do not put this on the labels. You could be getting a very small dose which would not be enough to make a difference. Additionally, many of these bacteria will be killed by stomach acid, especially when eaten with food.

Aside from not knowing the amount of good bacteria you’re consuming, the other downside of yogurt is the sugar content. Typically, yogurt contains a large amount of sugar. If not sugar, the manufacturer will replace it with a manufactured sweetener. These sweeteners have been shown to cause gastrointestinal issues, which are the issues many individuals try to alleviate by consuming probiotics in the first place.

Probiotics and Stomach Acid

Here is the tricky part of the probiotic puzzle. Stomach acid is very, very strong. It does and will kill the majority of bacteria that get into the stomach each day. So, how do you protect the probiotic bacteria you take from this “bacteria execution chamber” which everyone has inside them? Here are some things you can do. First, take the probiotic on an empty stomach. When the stomach is empty, it is not making much acid. You can open a capsule and mix it with a small amount of water. The stomach will empty out liquid in 15-20 minutes, but will keep food in it for 60-90 minutes. During this time it grinds the food up and mixes it with acid and harsh enzymes which are designed to get the food ready for absorption in the small intestine. Another trick you can do is to mix the probiotic with some bicarbonate of soda, a strong alkaline powder. This will neutralize the stomach acid temporarily until the probitoic can get through the stomach.

Coating a Probiotic

Some manufacturers will enteric coat capsules.  Enteric coating is a polymer barrier on oral supplements.  This helps protect supplements from the ph (i.e. acidity) of the stomach. Another substance is called alginate which coats and protects the bacteria until it gets into the small intestine where it is safe. Again, we don’t really know how well this works. It sounds like it should. You have to check with the manufacturer to know if this is part of their production technique.

So here are the summary points:

  • Use a refrigerated probiotic which has just come onto the store shelf. The longer into the future is the expiration date, the more live probiotics are likely to be in the capsule.
  • Take a probiotic on an empty stomach with 4-6 oz of water. Even better, twist or cut the capsule and empty the powdered bacteria into a glass, add the water and a teaspoon of soda bicarbonate to neutralize the stomach acid.
  • Yogurt is great and most people get a good feeling that they are doing something good for their gut. We don’t know how much, but the advertisers tell us we will almost live forever if we eat their product. Consider the amount of sweeteners in the yogurt product. If you’re trying to manage your blood sugar, yogurt may not be the right option for you.
  • There are some probiotics that are helpful for certain gastrointestinal diseases. Your physician is the person to help you make the right choice.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

No discussion of probiotics would be complete without mentioning prebiotics. A prebiotic is not a probiotic. A prebiotic is a specialized plant fiber that easily gets through the stomach unchanged and the feeds the good colon bacteria which everyone already has in their colon. That’s right. We have over a 1000 species of bacteria in the colon and many of these are the good gals and guys. Feeding them good prebiotic plant fiber is the key to creating a rich furnace of potent good bacteria. When the body has a good balance of bacteria in the gut, it experiences many important benefits, from easier weight management and improved immune system to better mental health and resistance to stress.

When you consume prebiotics, you can be sure that you’re reaping all the benefits that come with them since they aren’t destroyed in the body. You can also be sure that what you’re introducing is beneficial. Unlike yogurt that contains good bacteria that may not be helpful to your unique gut, prebiotics fertilizes the good bacteria you already have in there.

Learn more about the differences between prebiotics and probiotics.

For additional information about the health benefits of prebiotics you can view published research on PubMed.gov.

9 comments

  1. al non says:

    Whey is a milk protein and not a wheat protein. Perhaps you are confused because there is an element of milk (casein) that is often accused of being similarly detrimental to gut health as gluten. However, i don’t think casein is included in the whey protein fraction (i could be wrong here though)

  2. vinu says:

    There is always an inherent danger in trying to bypass stomach acid.
    Stomach acid breaks down proteins into amino acids (denature). People who took proton pump inhibitors which block stomach acid, had intact proteins being absorbed. This resulted in them developing allergies to those food items. Likewise, if the probiotics have other food proteins, defeating the stomach acid with say bicarbonate of soda, will cause intact food proteins to get absorbed resulting in allergies. This is a danger with any oral vaccine also.

  3. Anthony G. says:

    Hold on a second. “… whey (wheat) protein…” What does whey have to do with wheat besides *nothing*? That line there will confuse people to thinking whey has or comes from wheat.

    I wouldn’t recommend using bicarbonate just for this purpose. There are better ways than to neutralize stomach acid IN the stomach. The capsule content in a small amount f water is what i’ve been doing for a long time *I have troubles swallowing capsules & tablets*

    Another option is to look for what companies like Renew Life is doing…entric-coated capsules that open ~ after 2 hours.

  4. Terry Dixon says:

    Diverticulitis and almost all bowel and gut diseases can be sorted by reading “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter and “The Miracle Of Coconut Oil” By Bruce Fife MD. Excellent publications by Doctors who have done the stats and studied the surveys world wide. My wife and I have established an eating plan that has changed our lives and amazed the local medico’s.

  5. anabela brandao says:

    Please inform me of the amazing eating plan!

  6. jodi says:

    Thank you Terry Dixon I will read these!

  7. Stu says:

    Some people suggest freezing capsules of castor oil so that they open further down the digestive tract. If this works, perhaps it would work for probiotic caps as well.

  8. Mikal Lawton says:

    Hi,

    Sorry, but stomach is strongest when the stomach is empty not when it is full. Medical doctors get that wrong every time. Stomach acid is neutralized during eating and does not kill the probiotics. Think about eating fermented foods or raw vegetables with soil organisms.

    It is the same silly thinking as saying vegetarians don’t get much zinc and you have to eat meat to get zinc. Well….how do you think the cow assimilated zinc into its meat, from eating plants. Also, stomach acid does not destroy enzymes. It doesn’t make sense that nature would supply all these foods with beneficial enzymes only to be destroyed in the stomach.

    I tend to not listen to the medical community because it has become corrupt in search of financial gain and the patient is no longer important anymore. You and I are just statistics.

  9. Biochemisty says:

    A cow gets zinc from its diet because it is a herbivore. It has rumen a gut with four compartments in the stomach. Plus they have herbivore teeth. A cow chews the food for hours and has very different gut bacteria. This is why it can get zinc etc. from plant matter. A human is an omnivore. Humans have omnivore gut and teeth. God (if you believe in God) or Nature if you dont believe in God – made humans that way. Omnivores who think they can become herbivores simply making a decision can’t change the fact that they were born an Omnivore.