My Issues With Bacillus licheniformis

What about a new probiotic that produces antioxidants once it colonizes your intestinal tract? Sounds great, right? The probiotic supplement with all this and more is known as MegaSporeBiotic!

A probiotic supplement that, in addition, claims to:1

  • Ubiquitous in nature.
  • Survives your stomach’s harsh environment.
  • Requires no refrigeration.
  • Include a strain that one of the most widely used in the world.
  • Helps properly regulate your immune system.

If you give me any product – even those I recommend – I can find something untrue or at least “bending” the truth regarding claims made about the product. The same is true for MegaSporeBiotic.

MegaSporeBiotic claims that the Bacillus species used in their supplement are the most widely researched and used worldwide. This statement is grossly incorrect. Bacillus is not a species of bacteria but a genus.2 Bacteria from the Bacillus genus are not the most widely used and researched “probiotics” in the world; that award goes to the Lactobacillus genus (Bifidobacterium is a close second.)3 MegaSporeBiotic also states explicitly that Bacillus clausii is the most widely used “probiotic” drug in the world. Instead, that award should go to Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in the prescribed probiotic VSL#3.4 5

MegaSporeBiotic also claims that Bacillus indicus HU36 would produce a wide variety of carotenoid antioxidants once it colonizes the large intestine. Production of the poorly absorbed dietary carotenoid antioxidants within your large intestine would be great if any science was available outside of the MegaSporeBiotic website to back up this theory. However, Bacillus indicus HU36 can produce these antioxidants6 but there is no proof whether or not this will occur within an animal or human intestinal tract once the bacteria is colonized. Bacillus indicus HU36 itself is a spore-forming marine-based bacteria that is not known to colonize human native gut flora, and based on that alone, it should be supplemented under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Bacillus indicus has also shown resistance to clindamycin in a study.7

 Bacillus licheniformis

Bacillus licheniformis is one of the worst offending soil based “probiotics” known to cause food poisoning,8 septicemia,9 10 11 peritonitis,12 and ophthalmitis.13 Bacillus licheniformis is not native human gastrointestinal flora but appears to be native flora in birds.14 Bacillus licheniformis is an ubiquitous organism that likely enters and passes through the human digestive system many times daily especially if your garden or live in a rural area. While data regarding its ability to colonize within the human gastrointestinal tract is sparse, the spores likely pass without activating.15

Bacillus licheniformis is known to cause spontaneous abortions in cattle and sheep as well as contaminate dairy (a cause of food poisoning) with toxins produced from the animals from ingestion of spoilage. B. licheniformis is a spore former and likely to survive all industrial processing of milk, such as the manufacturing of milk powder and whey concentrate. Toxins produced by B. licheniformis interfere with mitochondrial function and over-activate the intestines’ TRPV1 receptors, causing diarrhea.16

Not all strains of Bacillus licheniformis appear to contain toxin-expressing genes. Still, with most probiotic supplements not labeling the strains of bacteria used, it is hard to know what you are taking in. Some “probiotic” supplements have removed it from their formulations in recent years; Garden of Life’s Primal Defense is a prime example of the change of heart.17

People may criticize me for being overly cautious about other “HSO” probiotics and their chances of causing infections. There have been some cases involving Bacillus licheniformis causing infections in people who are hospitalized or after surgery, and it has even been associated with food poisoning. Lactobacillus acidophilus might have a few cases of septicemia infections in recorded literature. Still, it is a more widely used probiotic, and the worse it would cause, the easier it is to identify and treat infections than most “HSOs.”18 19

Endospores are dormant, tough encapsulations that protect the bacteria from your immune system, antibiotics, antibacterials, and probiotics. Bacteria can also lie dormant in endospores until their environment becomes favorable for faster reproduction and survival. Bacterial endospores may also eventually become opportunistic within a host microbiome and cause health issues. Bacterial endospores can survive without nutrients for long and resist UV radiation, desiccation, high temperatures, extreme freezing, and most chemical disinfectants. 20

Since bacteria in the Bacillus genus are spore-forming, it becomes hard to eliminate them if they become opportunistic. Most proponents say that the endospore aspect of licheniformis is a good quality in a “probiotic.” Their reasoning behind this recommendation is that since Bacillus licheniformis is encapsulated in an endospore, the bacteria can survive stomach acid when ingested and propagate quickly in the intestines.

Bacillus licheniformis is immunostimulatory in some cases and produces bactericides to help eliminate other bacteria.21 Some non-HSO bacteria also produce bactericides to help reduce total bacterial load in the intestines, but most of those bacteria are easy to eliminate if they cause an infection.22 23 If Bacillus licheniformis becomes opportunistic, its bactericides may target normal probiotic flora and reduce their populations, increasing its virulence.

Finally, multiple studies have found that the Bacillus licheniformis and subtilis strains may produce histamine. I have coached many clients who developed or worsened histamine intolerance and mast cell activation disorder from taking probiotics containing these strains. If you develop multiple symptoms, including itching, hives, diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, racing thoughts, asthma, post nasal drip, and rarely anaphylaxis while taking a probiotic that contains these strains, contact me for coaching, and I will hopefully be able to help you find relief.

I will not recommend any supplement that uses Bacillus licheniformis because of these possible issues.

Update 1: In 2015 we spoke with Kiran Krishnan, the designer of MegaSporeBiotic. He has been working in the probiotic industry for over fifteen years and has some of the same concerns that we do about probiotic companies. He will share some data with us in the coming weeks about his quality control methods and how meticulous he is about keeping his product safe. According to Mr. Krishnan, MegaSporeBiotic is used by over a thousand doctors, and many people are seeing positive results with his product.

Update 2:

The information Kiran provided us did not meet our expectations, and at this time, we still cannot recommend MegaSporeBiotic. I cannot give too much detail because Kiran asked me not to. Still, most of the information provided was old studies we knew of, promotional literature from MegaSporeBiotic, and a COA for Bacillus subtilis. I can confidently say that their Bacillus subtilis HU58 strain is labeled correctly and verified pure by the third-party COA provided. That being said, he offered us no in-house studies or COAs on the other strains in the supplement, including the one I had the most issues within the supplement, Bacillus licheniformis. We contacted Kiran again for more information and have been waiting to hear from him. If he provides us with the requested information at any time, I will update the blog with more details, but at this time, we still do not recommend MegaSporeBiotic.

We have differing opinions about the Bacillus genus, and we invite you to look at the comment section at the bottom of the article for Mr. Krishnan’s rebuttal. We hope that this discussion proves valuable and that the dialog helps you find the best treatment option under the supervision of a qualified physician.

Update 3: More information on MegaSporeBiotic.