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Probiotics 101: Their History, Evolution, and Where FitBiomics Comes into Play

Female scientists in the lab for research and development
Probiotics have a great reputation for improving gut health and overall wellness, and the discovery of this principle dates back to ancient civilization.

The earliest evidence of probiotic use on record involves the Greeks and Romans noticing an improvement in their digestive health after eating fermented foods. However, they had no idea that it was the microorganisms in fermented food that were providing benefits. While we still rely on products like yogurt and kefir to balance the bacteria in our guts today, we now have the knowledge and ability to take probiotic supplements with strains that have scientifically demonstrated health benefits.

The history and evolution of probiotic strains can help us better understand why probiotics are so essential. Let’s take a closer look at this and uncover how FitBiomics is shaking up the health and wellness industry.

Understanding the History and Evolution of Probiotic Strains

The health implications of fermented foods were discovered far before the microbes. Research published in “Clinical Infectious Diseases,” states that images of fermented milk can be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and there’s evidence that fermented yak milk was used by Tibetan nomads to preserve milk during long journeys.

As for probiotics themselves, Bulgarian physician and microbiologist Stamen Grigorov may be known as the first to isolate a probiotic strain, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, from yogurt. Soon after, Elie Metchnikoff was credited with being the first to make the connection between probiotic bacteria and health. He noticed that those who consumed yogurt seemed to be aging better and living longer and was the first to attribute longevity among the Bulgarians to the lactobacilli used to ferment the yogurt.

Over the last hundred years or so, this genus of bacteria (Lactobacillus) grew to be one of the most commonly used in probiotic supplements and probiotic foods based on its known safety, benefits, and how simple it was to isolate and grow from food.

But now, more than ever, people are starting to understand just how important these probiotic strains are for overall health and wellness. And it all starts with understanding the human gut microbiome - the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells that live in the human intestines. These cells include bacteria, archaea, and fungi; but because bacteria are the most abundant, they have been the best studied component of the microbiome.

So why does this matter? A healthy microbiome can provide many different benefits for its human host. Some of the microorganisms found in the gut obtain nutrients from food, while simultaneously breaking down food and fighting back against bad bacteria. Others interact with the immune system in the gut decreasing systemic inflammation while promoting a better defense against pathogens. These bacteria can even affect sleep and your mood. They produce neurotransmitters and other molecules that can travel to the brain via the vagus nerve and support your mood and cognition.

And with more insight into the human microbiome, we can identify, isolate, and characterize next-generation probiotic strains in order to help more people live their best lives.

Digital composite of highlighted red painful intestine of woman

Why Aren’t Brands Using Next-Generation Strains?

FitBiomics is one of a handful of companies working to develop next-generation probiotic strains. However, this does not mean that other brands are using “outdated” strains that are ineffective. Referring to these as “outdated strains” implies that they no longer do what they need to do in terms of promoting a healthy gut. However, the strains used in probiotics for the last hundred years like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria can still have a significant beneficial impact on gut health.

There isn’t a “best probiotic strain” for example; your genetics, microbiome, health history and habits have a lot to do with how a probiotic supplement will work for you. That means that a probiotic that works well for your friend may have a different impact on you, and the more next-generation probiotic strains on the market, the more likely it is that everyone will be able to find the probiotic that works best for them.

Research has led us to novel connections between the microbiome and host, ultimately encouraging the push into next-generation probiotic strain discovery and research.

Many companies are pursuing next-generation strain research but not to make probiotics. However, most of these companies are attempting to turn these strains into FDA approved drugs - a process that can take 10 years, more than $1 billion dollars, and results in high drug prices for consumers. In contrast, FitBiomics is attempting to accelerate these discoveries and make them accessible to the average consumer by creating next-generation probiotics. That does not mean that the process is easy though. Next-generation probiotic strains can be more difficult to grow and manufacture than stains isolated from food. Novel strains must also meet stringent safety and toxicology testing standards to be considered safe for consumption, which can be a major deterrent for companies looking to develop new products. This process, as well as the manufacturing development, are both expensive and risky.

FitBiomics is one of the only companies willing to take the risk and pay these increased costs, giving them the opportunity to bring new probiotics to customers looking for novel benefits from their probiotics. But why are they willing to take these risks?

How FitBiomics Does Things Differently

FitBiomics does things differently. We don’t purchase and repurpose strains that already exist, and we don’t isolate probiotics from food or animals. Instead, we believe we should be using the strains that best survive and thrive inside the guts of the most healthy people.

Stress, the environment, our individual genetics, and diet/exercise are all factors contributing to the composition of our microbiome. We’ve worked hard to develop powerful products that better fit the needs of our modern world.

At FitBiomics, we study the microbiome of unique human populations, like elite athletes. We believe that the unique stressors on their bodies create a selective pressure on the microbiome, which in turn, evolves to promote survival and resilience of the human host. By understanding the role of the microbiome in these populations, we can develop our next-generation probiotics so that they can benefit the masses, giving them the armor they need to be their best selves despite today's challenging environment.

And based on our experience with this process, we’ve created a breakthrough type of multi-strain probiotic called Nella using three of our own unique lactobacillus strains: Lactiplantibacillus plantarum, Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Dr. Marina Santiago, FitBiomics Director of Research and Development, shared that their unique strains are showing positive outcomes in their research studies. The results of this placebo-controlled study will be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year.

“In our open-label study of about 250 people, we found that about 94% of people experienced some sort of benefit - sleep, energy, digestion - and to validate that, we did a placebo-controlled study and we saw statistically significant differences in terms of improved digestion, sleep, and energy among those taking Nella compared to the placebo,” said Dr. Santiago.

While most brands have taken more of a formulation-based approach to probiotics, we’re all about discovery and innovation. We are not only discovering unique strains of existing species, like those found in our Nella probiotic, but we have developed a completely new genus of probiotic strains. In 2019, we published a paper in Nature Medicine that showed that when mice supplemented with Veillonella, there was a 13% increase in their endurance running ability. We have recently tested this in healthy humans in a pilot study as well and found evidence that those that took our Veillonella probiotic (Veillonella atypica FB0054) had improved endurance compared to those taking placebo. We plan to launch Veillonella in the fall of 2023.

While the Nella by FitBiomics team continues to do their research, their discovery and innovation pipeline remains strong, yielding exciting results and new strains that will become products in the future, including novel genera that are safe, stable, and can be developed into innovative probiotic products.

FAQs on Probiotic Strains

Which Probiotic Strain is Best?

Research on probiotic strains and the development of new probiotics has made it easier than ever to achieve a healthy gut microbiome, but figuring out which one is best for you might seem to pose a bit of a challenge. The truth is: No probiotic is one size fits all. Taking your time and finding the right probiotic for you involves understanding probiotic strains, assessing your current state of health and outlining your future expectations regarding benefits. Once you have a grasp of all of these factors, you’ll be better equipped to find the best probiotic strain for you.

How Many Strains Should a Probiotic Have?

This is another question that doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all answer. There are single strain probiotics available, as there are multi-strain probiotics available as well. It’s all about understanding which strains are in your desired probiotic. Nella, for example, uses a blend of three proprietary strains: Lactiplantibaccillus plantarum, Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus acidophilus. And as previously mentioned, the research and development process by the FitBiomics team has led them to this blend that’s yielding positive results in the gut microbiome and beyond.

Ready to Revolutionize Your Gut Health?

Innovation and discovery are powerful for the ever-evolving microbiome. Subscribe and save on Nella today to make improvements in your gut health and notice better sleep, energy, and more.

WRITTEN BY:  Marina Santiago, PhD


Dr. Santiago has a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from the Microbiology and Immunobiology Department of Harvard Medical School, but she has been fascinated by microbes and microbial communities for as long as she can remember. She works as an independent R&D strategy consultant and helps companies create and use evidence-based frameworks for making strategy decisions as well as helping them launch new programs or initiatives. Dr. Santiago is also passionate about fitness and the outdoors. In her free time, she enjoys running, hiking, and backpacking very long distances, as well as slowly getting better at yoga, Muay Thai, and Jiu Jitsu.


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