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Stomach Acid and Survival of Probiotics

Stomach acid or gastric acid is a colorless, watery digestive fluid produced by the stomach’s lining. It’s highly acidic, as it can break down foods for the absorption of the nutrient. Stomach acid plays a vital role in the digestion of protein by activating digestive enzymes such as:

  • Hydrochloric acid (HCL)
  • Potassium chloride
  • Sodium chloride


All these enzymes help break down the long chain of amino acids of a protein. It also helps in the digestion and absorption of nutrients from protein. The gastric juice is highly acidic with a pH between 1 to 3.


Stomach acid also plays a key role in ensuring that any microbes found in foods are eliminated before they can finally reach the intestine. However, the acidity of the stomach likewise prevents the delivery of good microbes, including probiotics to the GI tract. Probiotics are living organisms. Since they are living organisms, their numbers decrease in the GI tract because of the acidic environment. This lowers the therapeutic effects of probiotics. However, some species of probiotics like Lactobacillus are intrinsically resistant to acid.


Even though there are billions CFUs present in a single dose of a probiotic supplement, only a fraction of probiotic can survive the transit through the stomach. Protection and coating currently available are only partially effective and result in the loss of millions of bacteria. The search is still on for protective methods and technology that will make them more effective. 


Enteric coating probiotic supplements


Enteric-coating probiotic supplements like in a capsule are more efficient because they are more capable of surviving stomach acidity. They are completely sealed, allowing them to survive the acidic environment of the stomach. This allows the probiotic to make its way down to the large intestine. While enteric coating probiotics shield the microbes inside, there are, however, drawback you should keep in mind:


  • The production process of enteric-coating probiotic supplements makes use of alcohol or heat for drying. This process decreases the viability of the bacteria inside.
  • The enteric coating itself contains moisture and air which can damage the freeze-dried probiotic powder inside. When this happens, the good bacteria inside can die before they even get into your system.


Delayed-release probiotic


Delayed-release probiotic capsules open slowly to release the content inside. However, delayed-release capsules only last for 30 minutes. This makes the probiotics inside vulnerable to the stomach acid and prevents it from making its way into the intestine.


Vegetable capsule probiotic supplement


Vegetable capsule probiotics are the most common form of probiotic supplements made from hypromellose. For probiotics to reach the small intestine, colonize the host and impart their benefits, they must survive the acidic environment. In the case of the vegetable capsule, it can absorb moisture and can dissolve at room temperature.


How do you choose the right probiotics?


Normally, if a product receives positive feedback or reviews, it is an indication that the live culture survived the journey through the stomach and thrives on the host microbiome. If you can find one, then it might be the right probiotic supplement for you. In the end, the only thing that matters is whether a product works and provides health benefits.

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