A probiotic in Kombucha products (Bacillus coagulans) and its effects on the gut microbiome.

From MicrobeWiki, the student-edited microbiology resource

General Background of Kombucha products and Bacillus coagulans

This scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicts Bacillus coagulans bacteria. Photo credit: Biologics.

By Elsie Groebner

Several “health foods" have recently emerged as the demand for “healthy alternatives” to popular foods is increasing. The potential for foods with dietary factors like lactic acid bacteria, amino acids, polyphenols, and oligosaccharides has become a recent topic of study.[1] One popular “health drink” that has emerged is kombucha, which is a fermented tea. Some consumers probably aren’t aware that the popular beverage, kombucha, is made of live bacteria and yeast cultures. The product is made by combining tea, sugar, and a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, otherwise known as a SCOBY, and fermenting it. A scoby is a biofilm of microorganisms.[2] The kombucha fermentation process contains a yeast fermentation of sugar to alcohol, and a bacterial fermentation of alcohol to acetic acid. Kombucha products make claims like consumption helps maintain a “healthy gut”, and for its “multiple functional properties such as anti-inflammatory potential and antioxidant activity”.[3]

Kombucha contains billions of live probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that appear to have health benefits for the human gut microbiome. In fact, kombucha products must maintain at least 107-109cfu/g live probiotics until the end of shelf life to be considered beneficial.[4] Probiotics may help the body have a healthy balanced level of live microorganisms. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.[5] The major probiotic in kombucha products appear to be Bacillus coagulans, but several other bacteria capable of fermentation are found in kombucha as well.[6] Lactobacillus nagelii, Gluconacetobacter, Gluconobacter, and Komagataeibacter are other strains of probiotics that are found in kombucha products.[6] In this paper, we will investigate the empirical research surrounding Bacillus coagulans to better understand its properties that could positively impact the human body, and more specifically the gut microbiome, when consumed through kombucha products. In the current research, there has been overwhelming evidence that the Bacillus coagulans probiotic can have several health benefits, including improved protein absorption and digestion, improved immune cell function, and the potential to improve athletic performance. There is also evidence that Bacillus coagulans can be a potential treatment for conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Further research on the function and benefits of consuming Bacillus coagulans can be done to add to this pool of scientific knowledge.

Structural and functional properties of Bacillus coagulans

This image depicts the genomic atlas of Bacillus coagulans bacteria. Photo credit: Direct

Bacillus coagulans is a Lactic acid-producing, spore forming, facultative anaerobic bacterium that is also catalase positive and Gram positive.[7] The cell wall of Bacillus coagulans has teichoic acids with a higher lipid count compared to other Gram positive bacteria. Bacillus coagulans grows best at a pH of 6 and in the 35-50℃ temperature range.[7] It has been reported, however, that strains of Bacillus coagulans are capable of surviving high temperatures and low pH values.[8] Bacillus coagulans is capable of fermenting sucrose, trehalose, maltose, mannitol, and raffinose, and produces acid but not gas. [9] It is likely that Bacillus coagulans is not naturally found in the gut.[10] It was also found that Bacillus coagulans is resistant to both lysozyme and bile, but sensitive to antibiotics.[8] Bacillus coagulans is able to form biofilm, and has antimicrobial activity.[8] There was no evidence of Hemolytic activity (breaking down of red blood cells) or lecithinase production (which catalyzes the breakdown of phospholipids) in Bacillus coagulans. In terms of genomic composition, Bacillus coagulans has a single circular chromosome with 3,609,781 base pairs and a general guanine and cytosine content ranging between 44-50%.[11] The spores that Bacillus coagulans structurally contain a core, a cortex, a spore membrane, and a spore coat.

Bacillus coagulans can withstand environmental stresses, making it a premier probiotic for consumption

Probiotics generally are resistant to extreme heat conditions and therefore gastrointestinal conditions. Not all probiotics are capable of forming spores, but Bacillus coagulans is. Because of Bacillus coagulans’ spore forming ability, compared to other probiotics, it is a premier choice for foods that need to be stable and survive harsher conditions.[7] Bacillus coagulans is able to be used in both the spore form and vegetative form.[4] The vegetative form is generally more susceptible to acidity, long shelf life, and high temperatures compared to the spore form. Bacillus coagulans possesses a unique structure; it has the endospores positioned at the bacterial poles, the endospores can tolerate environmental stresses, allowing the bacteria to resist gastric acid and propagate in gastrointestinal tract and reach the small intestine.[9] Bacillus coagulans displays important characteristics seen in both Bacillus and Lactobacillus. “As a member of Bacillus genus, forming resistant dormant endospores made them tolerate the extreme conditions and transit across gastric environmental barriers.”[12] Like Lactobacillus, Bacillus coagulans can produce antibacterial agents like bacteriocins, acids, and hydrogen peroxide, aiding in its potential as a food preservative.[11] These characteristics enable Bacillus coagulans to withstand extreme oxidative, acidic, osmotic, and alkaline stresses.[11]

Enhanced protein absorption and digestion with Bacillus coagulans

This image shows that Bacillus coagulans significantly reduced subjective feelings of perceived muscle soreness and increased perceived recovery after exercising. Photo credit:National Library of Medicine

Bacillus coagulans research has shown that the probiotic may have beneficial effects to the human body by aiding in protein absorption and healthy digestion. “Probiotics can also induce host digestive protease and peptidase activity, and some can release exoenzymes involved in the digestion of proteins. In addition, probiotics can improve the absorption of small peptides and amino acids by improving the absorption ability of the epithelium and enhancing transport.”[13] One study, Maathuis et al., used an in vitro model of the stomach and small intestine to test the metabolic activity and survival of the GanedenBC30 strain of Bacillus coagulans.[14] The study found that Bacillus coagulans had a high survival rate in the stomach and intestine models. The researchers found that there was a higher amount of digested milk protein available for absorption in milk with Bacillus coagulans added versus milk without the probiotic added. The study concluded that overall, protein digestion capability of lactose and fructose was improved with the addition of Bacillus coagulans, even without undergoing cell germination. In fact, in the trials with only Bacillus coagulans, lactate was already produced from the bile, pancreatic liquids, or from the maltodextrin, but the control samples had no lactate production. “The potential of GanedenBC30 to aid in the digestion of lactose and fructose could be used to prevent occurrence of intestinal symptoms in individuals sensitive to these carbohydrates.”[14] Increased protein absorption with Bacillus coagulans was evident in Tarik et al.[15] One group received Bacillus coagulans with whey protein, while the other group received whey protein and lactose. The group that received Bacillus coagulans had increased levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): isoleucine, leucine, and valine by 33.1% compared to the control. BCAA supplements are shown to increase muscle mass and can reduce muscle damage. Tarik et al. stated that “significantly increased absorption of BCAA with supplementation of Bacillus coagulans Unique IS-2 along with whey protein and improvement in leg press and vertical jump power was noted indicating the positive effect of the probiotic on muscle power in the lower body.”[15] For people who have trouble digesting sugars like lactose and fructose, Bacillus coagulans consumption could improve their adverse symptoms.

Potential athletic performance benefits of Bacillus coagulans

Another study, Jager et al., showed that Bacillus coagulans can aid in digestion of carbohydrates and proteins, and can maximize the health and athletic benefits that protein supplementation offers.[16] Bacillus coagulans has been shown to produce digestive enzymes called proteases, and these proteases can increase amino acids in the blood.[17] Improvement of cell health and decreased inflammation causing increased digestion has been shown with Bacillus coagulans consumption. Jager et al. also looked into the effects of Bacillus coagulans’ protein digestion capabilities on athletic performance, specifically high jump in this case, and found that Bacillus Coagulans was actually correlated with better athletic performance when administered in combination with whey protein.[16] It is likely that this observation was due to the recovery benefit and protein absorption evidence seen in Bacillus coagulans consumption studies. Furthermore, the group treated with Bacillus coagulans reported less muscle soreness and fatigue feeling compared to the control group. This reported decrease in muscle soreness and fatigue was also supported by common blood markers of muscle damage. The Wingate cycle ergometer was used to determine peak power during exercise, and there was a “significantly decreased athletic performance in the casein group whereas co-administration of Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 and casein prevented the decline”.[16] This displays that relative to the control, athletic performance was higher in the Bacillus coagulans treated group. There was no significant difference in body composition or strength between the two groups.

Improved IBS symptoms in the presence of Bacillus coagulans

This image shows the effects of Bacillus coagulans and placebo on both the mean score of total symptoms severity of IBS and stool consistency. Photo credit: Library of Medicine

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a bowel condition that affected 11% of the global population in 2014.[18] IBS generally seems to effect more women than men, and it’s estimated only 30% of people with IBS seek out a physician for the condition.[18] IBS symptoms generally include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation, yet it is a difficult condition to diagnose. The potential for Bacillus coagulans to improve IBS conditions has been studied in recent years. Gastrointestinal function change appears to be highly correlated to intestinal microbiota change. One study, Madempudi et al., had participants with diagnosed IBS take either a placebo or a Bacillus coagulans capsule daily for 8 weeks.[19] Researchers used pain intensity scores, use of rescue medication and stool consistency as measures. Over the eight weeks, the symptom severity scores decreased by 16.1 points in the Bacillus coagulans group and by 5.2 in the control group, demonstrating a significant difference between the two groups. There was also evidence that the Bacillus coagulans treatment was potentially more successful than a three strain probiotic containing L. acidophilus, B. bifidum, and B. lactis.[19] Stool consistency was also improved in the treatment group, but the same results were not observed in the control group. “From the fifth week onwards the patients of Bacillus coagulans group showed significant (p < 0.0001) improvement in abdominal discomfort, bloating, urgency, incomplete evacuation, straining, passage of gas, bowel habit satisfaction, overall assessment of IBS symptoms and total score.”[19] Taken together, these results present the potential for Bacillus coagulans to be an important treatment possibility for people who struggle with IBS.

Another study, Gupta et al., found similar results. This study used a double blind injection procedure to inject active Bacillus coagulans or vehicle into the arm for an 80 day period and evaluated change in IBS symptoms and Bristol stool scores between the groups over time. The specific symptoms analyzed in this study were “bloating/cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, stomach rumbling, nausea, vomiting, headache, and anxiety.”[20] The study found that Bacillus coagulans was effective in alleviating all studied symptoms of IBS over time when compared to the control group. Stool consistency was also significantly improved after administration of Bacillus coagulans in the treatment group, where there was no significant improvement observed in the group that received the vehicle. They found no significant changes in vital signs or biochemical and hematological parameters when studied in both the treatment and vehicle groups. “Processed responses clearly indicated improvement in parameters like abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and flatulence, vomiting and nausea, perception of mental well-being and influence on daily life in Test-G arm, that is, treated with Bacillus coagulans LBSC.”[20] Overall, Bacillus coagulans has the potential to improve symptoms of IBS, and needs further research to fully understand the benefits.

Improved immune cell function and anti-inflammatory factors with Bacillus coagulans consumption

There has been evidence that consumption of Bacillus coagulans appears to be correlated with altered/improved immune cell function. Probiotics seem to regulate adaptive immune responses by modulating dendritic cell, T and B Lymphocytes, and macrophages.[21] Probiotics also consume nutrients that would otherwise be consumed by pathogens.[22] Nyangale et al. used a double blind procedure to look at the effects of Bacillus coagulans’ effects on the gut microbiome of people aged 65-80. The researchers found that regular daily consumption of Bacillus coagulans BC30 potentially increased the production of anti-inflammatory factors. Specifically, there was a 0.2ng/mL increase in the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 when Bacillus coagulans was consumed, compared to the placebo which had no impacts on IL-10 presence. It was also found that Bacillus coagulans increased the presence of F. prausnitzii, which is also known to increase the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.[23] Another study, Jensen et al., aimed to document the immune activating and anti-inflammatory effects of Bacillus coagulans on in vitro human immune cells. To accomplish this, peripheral blood mononuclear cells were incubated with inactive Bacillus coagulans for 24 hours. The results showed that inactive Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086 triggered an increase in the CD69 activation marker, which is an important early detector of several immune cell interactions. More specifically, the study found that Bacillus coagulans is capable of activating immune cells and enhancing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. [24] In terms of immunity function, Bacillus coagulans improved the levels of Immunoglobulin A, Immunoglobulin M, and Immunoglobulin Y relative to controls. Bacillus coagulans also inhibits Interleukin-1β , Interleukin-6, and Tumor necrosis factor-α which are all pro-inflammatory factors, meaning that Bacillus coagulans effectively works to turn off inflammation mechanisms.[25]

Improved Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms with Bacillus coagulans consumption

This table shows the effects of a Bacillus coagulans Biotherapi treatment versus standard of care (placebo) treatment on various RA symptoms. Photo credit: Journal of Rheumatology

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder affecting 1.3 million Americans. In RA, the immune system attacks the tissues and joints, causing gradual bone and cartilage degradation.[26] There seems to be a strong health association between the gut microflora, immune system, and gastrointestinal system. In Mandel et al., patients received either placebo or Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 for a 60 day period. Patients who received Bacillus coagulans saw statistically significant symptom improvement in two forms of “pain scale tests”. These results were conserved in Roy et al., where people who had RA were instructed to take a combination probiotic (Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans) twice daily for 12 days.[27] There was significant improvement in all RA symptom scores after daily consumption of the combination probiotic. Animal research has also contributed important findings to the study of RA treatment with probiotics. Abhari et al. had similar findings when control rats and rats with induced RA received inulin, Bacillus coagulans, or indomethacin.[28] This study found that when the RA group rats were pretreated with the prebiotic, probiotic, or synbiotic treatments, the fibrinogen and serum amyloid A production was significantly decreased.[28] The pretreatment with prebiotic, probiotic, or synbiotic treatment also led to a significant decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokine production. Paw inflammation appeared to be prevented by Bacillus coagulans administration in rats that were induced with RA. Because the GI tract and inflammatory processes are impacted by Bacillus coagulans administration, the probiotic appears to be a promising treatment for inflammatory diseases, with RA being a perfect candidate.

Antioxidant activity in Bacillus coagulans consumption

Antioxidants are capable of inhibiting oxidation, a process that generally produces free radicals. These free radicals can be damaging to the body, so antioxidants can prevent and repair this oxidative damage. Synthesized antioxidants come with unknown side effects, so natural antioxidants that are produced by probiotics are promising. Zhang et al. looked at antioxidant capacity and immunity function in broilers when treated with Bacillus coagulans. The antioxidant activity was significantly improved in broilers that received the Bacillus coagulans treatment. The activity of Glutathione peroxidase, Superoxide dismutase, and Catalase was improved while the activity of Malondialdehyde was decreased. The decrease of Malondialdehyde implies that Bacillus coagulans relieves lipid peroxidation.[25] Another study, Lavrentev et al., combined Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856, Streptococcus thermophilus and milk protein.[29] The authors found that there was an increase in antioxidant activity in the fermented product when Bacillus coagulans was added, compared to the Streptococcus thermophilus and milk protein alone. The authors proposed that this observation is likely due to the fact that the bioactive peptides have antioxidants, and there was an increase in bioactive peptides with Bacillus coagulans addition. Additionally, an in vitro assessment determined that the antioxidant capability was in the range of 106-108 CFU/mL, and that it had significant radical scavenging activity. “Bacillus coagulans T242 showed a high capacity for scavenging 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) free radicals (35.0%), hydroxyl radicals (39.0%), and superoxide anion radicals (14.8%), and good reducing power (58.5 μmol/L ascorbic acid equivalent).”[30] Therefore, the high antioxidant content is a desirable characteristic in fermented products for both its taste and health benefits it can confer to the host.

Potential benefits of Bacillus Coagulans in Kombucha products

In conclusion, there is overwhelming evidence that the Bacillus coagulans probiotic can have several health benefits, including improved protein absorption and digestion, improved immune cell function, and the potential to improve athletic performance. There is also evidence that Bacillus coagulans can be a potential treatment for conditions like IBS and RA. Transparency about what is contained in the food we eat is becoming highly sought after. As the world shifts towards seeking out more “healthy alternatives”, research surrounding probiotics like Bacillus coagulans will continue to be extremely important and beneficial. Bacillus coagulans is the main probiotic found in kombucha products. Therefore, it can be assumed that kombucha products may share some of the many benefits that result from consuming Bacillus coagulans alone. This is a growing area of research and the field is in need of more research on the microbial elements in various food products.


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Authored for BIOL 238 Microbiology, taught by Joan Slonczewski,at Kenyon College,2024