Myth: One-Size-Fits-All Probiotics

Image: @everydayexpert

Image: @everydayexpert

The human gastrointestinal system contains around 39 trillion bacteria that reside in the large intestine. The genetic material of the microbiome is approximately 150 times greater than the human genome, which has led scientists to label the microbiome as a ‘super organism’.  Scientists are in agreement, they are essential for gut health and digestion by breaking down your foods, making nutrients more bio-available, converting compounds into essential vitamins, crowding out pathogenic microbial invaders, and producing neurotransmitters that signal important information to the brain and immune system. 

Wow you must be saying to yourself, how do I keep this system healthy, especially when compromised by chronic illness? Your doctor might have you on a daily probiotic. Your latest Instagram feed might be plugged with advertisements by both brands and influencers for the latest probiotic containing supplement or pill, or you might find a drink or packaged food advertising its probiotic powers. 

While a healthy balance of gut bacteria plays a role in moderating inflammation, and diets containing fermented foods may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, helping to reduce chronic diseases such as arthritis, fibrosis, or depression, we caution the use of manufactured probiotics. 

Microbiologists often caution that a promising study on a single strain of a particular species of bacteria should not be taken as proof that all probiotics work equally well. “Bacterial strains are so genetically different from one another, and everybody has a different gut microbiota,” Allen-Vercoe says. “There will probably never be a one-size-fits-all probiotic.”

You might think that strains contained in the very expensive probiotic you find in the refrigerated section of your local health food store are selected to benefit your health. Think again, its common for manufacturers of probiotics select to specific bacterial strains because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut —basically making their claims useless. 

Microbiologists often caution that a promising study on a single strain of a particular species of bacteria should not be taken as proof that all probiotics work equally well, bacterial strains are genetically different from one another, and everybody has a different gut microbiota that works in concert with their other bacteria. 

But you have been compromised by antibiotics usage and chronic illness. Your gut isn’t working like it used to. The days where you took a perfect poop 1-2xs a day seems like a distant memory. What to do? 

At The Heal Hive we turn to nature and time-tested holistic methods when in doubt, which is why we love to make home-made ferments. Fermenting your own foods may sound time-consuming and difficult, but in reality you don’t need to be a great cook to be able to ferment. Below you will find an ancient recipe used for preserved lemons —a staple in Middle Eastern and North African cuisines. 

Homemade ferments contain pre-biotics and the food can actually help deliver essential microbes to the large intestine, surviving the acidic environment in the stomach. 

"The ingestion of fermented foods potentially increases the numbers of microbes in the diet by up to 10 000-fold, and consuming ‘living’ fermented foods on a daily basis could be equivalent to introducing new, albeit transient microbes into the indigenous, intestinal microbiota . . . Fermented foods and beverages were among the first processed food products consumed by humans. The production of foods such as yogurt and cultured milk, wine and beer, sauerkraut and kimchi, and fermented sausage were initially valued because of their improved shelf life, safety, and organoleptic properties. It is increasingly understood that fermented foods can also have enhanced nutritional and functional properties due to transformation of substrates and formation of bioactive or bioavailable end-products. Many fermented foods also contain living microorganisms of which some are genetically similar to strains used as probiotics. Although only a limited number of clinical studies on fermented foods have been performed, there is evidence that these foods provide health benefits well-beyond the starting food materials.” (Via, Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond)

Although we love home-made ferments please use caution if you have Mast Cell Disorder (MCAS) or Histamine Intolerance (HI). This recipe is high in histamine and is not recommended if you struggle with MCAS or HI. 

Heal Hive Preserved Lemon Recipe 


  • 2 large organic lemons (Meyer Lemons if available), cleaned very well under hot water with a scrub brush & patted dry

  • 2 Tbsp Himalayan sea salt


  1. Heat 1 cup of water in a small saucepan on the stove. Once boiling, remove from the heat and set aside, covered, to keep the water hot.

  2. In the meantime, roll your lemons on the countertop with your palm, pressing firmly to help release their juices. Use a sharp paring knife to slice off a bit of the stem end from each lemon to create a flat, stable surface with which to work. Now stand one of the lemons on its flat end, and make a cut down the middle, stopping when you are about 1/2-inch from cutting all the way through. Turn the lemon 90 so the cut is horizontal/parallel to you, and make another cut, stopping 1/2-inch from the bottom -- essentially creating an "x" in the lemon. Squeeze the lemon over a small bowl to gather its juices, being careful not to tear the quarters apart. Repeat these steps with the second lemon.

  3. Stand your "x"-cut lemons on their flat ends, open them up slightly, and pour 1/2 Tbsp of salt into the middle of each. Don't worry if some of it spills out. Pack your two salted lemons as snugly as possible into a clean pint jar. Use the end of a wooden spoon to really jam them tight into the jar. 

  4. Once your lemons are packed in, add the remaining 1 Tbsp salt, and press down on the lemons to release some of their juices. Pour the reserved juice in the bowl over top, adding more as much of the hot water needed until the lemons are fully covered, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace at the top of the jar. Press down one more time, wipe the rim of the jar and affix the lid.

  5. Label your jar with the date and leave the lemons alone sitting on a small plate for 2 weeks somewhere cool and dark. Invert the jar a couple times every few days to redistribute the juices and salt, and move it into the refrigerator after 1 week. You can tell when they're ready when the peels appear translucent and smell citrusy-sweet.

  6. Preserved lemons will keep, refrigerated, for at least 6 months and up to 12 if care is taken to ensure they remain submerged beneath the brine. Use a clean utensil to remove the lemons. If that salt is too much for your recipe or needs, give them a quick rinse in clean water. 

Laura MacLeod