IMPORTANT UPDATE: Notice the date of my post below: 2003. By 2011, Garden of Life had changed their product and the only (direct) soil organism it now contains is Bacillus subtilis – which has been used for over 1000 years by the Japanese to culture natto. So it does have a long history of safety in human usage.
BUT. What amount of Bacillus subitlis is in a serving of natto? Have you ever eaten natto? Not many people can – it is slimy and stinks. When I lived in Japan for 2 years, the most I ever saw anyone eat (and that was few and far between) was about a teaspoon. So how many billion cfu of b. subtilis is contained in a teaspoon of natto that is consumed once every few weeks or so? Who knows?? And that’s my point. At no time have humans consumed concentrated, high level doses of soil organisms.
Back to Primal Defense – Bacillus licheniformis was then only used indirectly as part of the culturing medium of Primal Defense, but according to the product label it was no longer part of the HSO blend. By 2014, B. licheniformis had disappeared from the label entirely:
Interesting… and you have to wonder why Garden of Life changed the product? Especially when their CEO had contacted me personally in 2005 to try and convince me that soil organisms were safe. Whenever actions are not congruent with words, you need to look deeper into what’s actually going on. Whatever their reasons, it was done very quietly and I only became aware of it in 2011 when one of my readers notified me.
The bottom line is that you cannot rely on probiotic manufacturers to have your best interests at heart. Manufacturers are often genuinely ignorant, and marketing concerns like price and accessibility (shelf-stable) often take precedence over health benefits. The best way to protect yourself is to make sure whichever probiotic you ingest adhere to my Probiotic Selection Criteria.
If you want LOTS more info and solid research on soil organisms, head on over to John Brisson’s series on HSO’s. He will give you detailed info on why you shouldn’t be consuming Primal Defense, Prescript-Assist, or any others.
Original post: I recently came across a post on a Quackwatch-type of blog where the author had posted my warning letter letter about ingesting bacterial soil organisms – also known as HSO’s, SO’s, SBO’s, or probiotics:
“Along with a book I ordered called “The IBD Remission Diet” by Jini Patel Thompson, came a page inserted later by the author that essentially withdrew her prior recommendation of Primal Defense. Horrified, I searched the Internet and could only find glowing testimonials (most of which eventually stemmed from the Garden of Life company’s own marketing.) I could find nothing from a scientific or unbiased source. The inserted warning is frightening. Here it is:
“On Page 108 of the IBD remission diet, I suggest that readers may want to try a product called Primal Defense after they’ve been completely healed for 3-5 months. I learned of this product from numerous readers who wrote in to let me know how well it’s worked for them. Since I couldn’t try the product myself (I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding for four years and counting,) I questioned numerous respected naturopaths, microbiology professors and gastroenterologists for their opinion on the product and all said it looked fine.
However, since meeting the founder and president of Natren Inc. (top quality pro-biotic manufacturer,) Natasha Trenev, I must change my opinion of bacterial soil organisms. Natasha is a world renowned expert on microorganisms and maintains one of the largest research libraries on that topic in the world. She has sent me an entire CD ROM of articles, research and clinical data and other scientific studies, (most done outside of North America,) outlining why it is not safe to consume bacterial soil organisms (like those contained in Primal Defense and numerous other products.)
To summarize the research briefly, soil organisms (SO) are spore formers, so they make good competitors for yeast, fungus and other pathogens. This is why so many people taking soil organisms will initially experience very favorable results. However these spores are are extremely difficult to kill, surviving sterilants, disinfectants, acceleration forces, heat, pressure, radiation and many antibiotics. Strong antibiotics — like Vancomycin — can suppress certain spores. Spores are so persistent in the intestines that another round of germination may occur after the the drug is stopped. Soil organisms can also adapt loose genetic material and incorporate it into their cellular structure – the ramifications of which are yet unknown. Various soil organisms can also produce harmful peptides, affecting hemoglobin in the blood. It’s important to keep in mind that virtually all antibiotic drugs were were initially developed from soil organisms and as antibiotics become more potent, they cause more damage to the host, not just in the immediate gut environment, but systematically as well.
In the EU (European Union) the use of soil organisms in animal feed is being stringently controlled and questioned at this time. There are simply too many questions and unknowns to sanction the use of soil organisms for human consumption and one certainly cannot qualify them as safe at this time.
I’m very sorry for any confusion this may have caused you. To be honest, this is the very first time I’ve recommended a product that I’ve not tried and tested exclusively myself — I admit I was swayed by so many good recommendations from readers. Rest assured that I will not do so again!
My sincerest apologies,
Jini Patel Thompson
There were many comments in response to this blog post, some of them claimed that the information from Natasha Trenev was not valid, as Natren is a competitor to Primal Defense. However, when I tried to post my comment with the research references, it would not accept it as there are too many web links in it and it’s too long. So, I’m posting it here instead!
I hear the argument about Natren being a competitor to Primal Defense. But that’s also forgetting a simple point: Wouldn’t it be simpler for Natasha to produce her own soil organism product, rather than spend her time and energy speaking out against soil organisms? When you own your own manufacturing plant, diversifying your product line is a breeze and costs very little.
Hmmm…could it be she’s actually concerned about people’s health? Likewise, her insistence that viable probiotics need to be refrigerated at all stages (like yoghurt). Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier for her to just offer a “shelf-stable” line of probiotics? When you already have millions of customers worldwide, surely this would make more financial sense?
Sure it would! But that’s my point. Natasha Trenev is one of the pioneers of the alternative health field and one of the minority who have not sold out their integrity for money.
She maintains one of the largest libraries on microorganism research in the world, with a full-time librarian. She also has a PhD Microbiologist on full-time staff – who often works with California hospitals to set up and implement clinical trials of probiotics.
Neither of these activities are cheap, but they are vital to understanding and staying at the forefront of this field that is absolutely rife with misinformation.
Anyway, getting back to the soil organisms – here is an extensive list of references (from hard science sources) that illustrate WHY ingesting soil organisms is experimental at the very least, and potentially dangerous. This list was compiled back in 2004, so while most of the web links are still active – if any of them no longer link properly, then you can still find the article by searching on the title/author.
Regarding the “alternative vs. allopathic sources” debate. Both have their pros and cons and my solution is to research and talk to both; with the ultimate trump over any research or study being my own body wisdom and experience. My best to all of you in your Healing Journey.
Natasha Trenev: My blogs posts & videos with Natren founder
Best Probiotic Species and Dosing for IBS
MICROBIOME: Indigenous Wisdom meets Science – Fermenting Foods
Healthy Gut Bugs Q&A – Session 1 – Improve Your Microbiota
Healthy Gut Bugs Q&A – Session 2 – Improve Your Microbiota
Healthy Gut Bugs – Session 3 – Dangers of Kombucha & S. Boulardii
Soil organisms: Web links for further research information
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Agerholm JS, Jensen NE, Giese SB, Jensen HE. A preliminary study on the pathogenicity of Bacillus licheniformis bacteria in immunodepressed mice. APMIS. 1997 Jan;105(1):48-54.
Agerholm JS, Jensen NE, Dantzer V, Jensen HE, Aarestrup FM. Experimental infection of pregnant cows with Bacillus licheniformis bacteria. Vet Pathol 1999 36: 191-201.
Banerjee C, Bustamante CI, Wharton R., Talley E., Wade JC. Bacillus infections in patients with cancer. Arch Intern Med 1988 Aug;148(8):1769-74
Bisset KA, Bartlett R. The isolation and characters of L-forms and reversions of Bacillus licheniformis var. Endoparasiticus (Benedek) associated with the erythrocytes of clinically normal persons. J. Med. Microbiol. 1978 11: 335-349.
Blue SR, Singh VR, Saubolle MA. Bacillus licheniformis bacteremia: five cases associated with indwelling central venous catheters. Clin Infect Dis. 1995 Mar;20(3):629-33.
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European Commission, Health & Consumer Protection Dorectorate-General. Opinion on the use of certain micro-organisms as additives in feedingstuffs. Expressed 26 September 1997, updated 25 April 2003.
Link to PDF
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Kniehl E, Becker A, Forster DH. Pseudo-outbreak of toxigenic Bacillus cereus isolated from stools of three patients with diarrhoea after oral administration of a probiotic medication. Journal of Hospital infection. 2003;55(1):33-8.
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Eur J Biochem. 2000 Jul;267(13):4068-74.
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Richard V, Van der Auwera P, Snoeck R, Daneau D, Meunier F. Nosocomial bacteremia caused by Bacillus species. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 1988 Dec;7(6):783-5.
Rowan NJ, Deans K, Anderson JG, Gemmell CG, Hunter IS, and Chaithong T. Putative Virulence Factor Expression by Clinical and Food Isolates of Bacillus spp. after Growth in Reconstituted Infant Milk Formulae. Appl. Envir. Microbiol. 2001 67: 3873-3881.
Rowan NJ, Caldow G, Gemmell CG, Hunter IS. Production of Diarrheal Enterotoxins and Other Potential Virulence Factors by Veterinary Isolates of Bacillus Species Associated with Nongastrointestinal Infection. Appl. Envir. Microbiol. 2003 69: 2372-2376. Link
Sagripanti J.-L., Bonifacino A.. Bacterial Spores Survive Treatment with Commercial Sterilants and Disinfectants. Appl Environ Micorbiol 1999;65(9):4255
Salkinoja-Salonen MS, Vuorio R, Andersson MA, Kämpfer P, Andersson MC, Honkanen-Buzalski T, Scoging AC. Toxigenic Strains of Bacillus licheniformis Related to Food Poisoning. Appl. Envir. Microbiol. 1999 65: 4637-4645.
Santini F, Borghetti V, Amalfitano G, Mazzucco A. Bacillus licheniformis prosthetic aortic valve endocarditis. J. Clin. Microbiol. 1995 33: 3070-3073.
Spinosa MR, Wallet F. et al. The Trouble in Tracing Opportunistic Pathogens: Cholangitis due to Bacillus in a French Hospital Caused by a Strain Related to an Italian Probiotic? Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 2000;12(2):99-101.
Tuazon CU, Murray HW, Levy C, Solny MN, Curtin JA, Sheagren JN. Serious infections from Bacillus sp. JAMA. 1979 Mar 16;241(11):1137-40.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook. Bacillus cereus and other Bacillus spp.
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Original post April 2008. Most recently updated January 2020.