The $10 Billion Scam (& Best Probiotic Alternatives I Use)

The $10 Billion Scam (& 5 Best Probiotic Alternatives I Use)

You’ve probably heard the cliche reference to the gut as the “second brain”. But it’s more than that. Read any list of the best health supplements and you’ll see probiotics included. Improving the health of the gut and its microbiome has become one of the hottest biohacking trends of the last decade.

For good reason…

The colonies of microbes within your body form your personality, health, fitness level, vitality, and virtually every facet of your life experience.

I used probiotic supplements for years and stopped. Most suffer from one or more problems:

  • Ineffective
  • Incredibly expensive
  • Poorly understood
  • Outright scams
  • Shrouded in false information and exaggerated marketing claims
  • Contain dangerous contaminants or adulterants

When I began deeper research, into how probiotics work, I discovered some important but lesser-known details.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the intricate world of biotics. We’ll cover the drawbacks and side effects of probiotic supplements. Then, you’ll discover the best alternatives. The secret to maximizing your benefits is through precise blends of prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, sporebiotics, psychobiotics, and postbiotics.

By the end, you’ll know more about the subject than 99.97% of humans, and more importantly, how to use them to optimize your health and performance.

Different Forms of Microbiome-Supporting Biotics

Most people have heard of probiotics. A tiny fraction also knows about the necessary and supportive products called prebiotics.

That’s not all. Today, scientists make about a half dozen differentiations of gut-microbiome support beyond probiotics. These include:

  • Prebiotics
  • Probiotics
  • Postbiotics
  • Synbiotics/Transbiotics
  • Psychobiotics
  • Sporebiotics

Plus, each has multiple different names in the scientific literature. Making for a complex, confusing web of sciencey names.

In the above order, let’s briefly compare and contrast each.


Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber compounds that act like food for beneficial bacteria in the gut. They are unaffected by temperature or pH. Unlike most food, these fibers pass through the stomach and small intestine undigested.

Various foods contain these prebiotic fibers, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Some examples include:

  • Inulin
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
  • Resistant starches

Resistant starches are a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine and acts as a prebiotic. You can find them in foods like green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, legumes, and cooked and cooled white rice.

By themselves, increased prebiotic consumption is associated with health benefits like improved digestion, enhanced immunity, and reduced risk of certain diseases. They also increase the production of postbiotics (which we’ll cover later).

Most importantly, prebiotics feed probiotics and other beneficial microbes.

The dark side, however, is that prebiotic fibers trigger digestive symptoms like bloating or gas in those with sensitivities to particular foods known as “FODMAPs”. Prebiotics are easy to get in the diet, and also not as well-researched as probiotics.


Probiotics are live bacteria, yeasts, and other microorganisms that directly benefit your health. You naturally consume particular strains of probiotics in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Supplementation with probiotics has also become quite popular.

The top probiotics include strains of bacteria in two families:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium

Probiotics work by colonizing the gut and rebalancing the gut microbiota. Even the ones that do not colonize and transiently pass through seem to exert some benefit. Although far less.

Each strain has particular effects, and matching the strain code identified in research with the product label matters. Probiotics enhance digestion, improve nutrient absorption, support immune function, and a whole lot more.

They also show promise to alleviate digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Beyond the gut, probiotics support brain health, reproductive health, oral health, among others. Probiotics even seem to help allergies.

The main factors that determine their effectiveness include:

  • Strain
  • Dosage
  • Alive/dead
  • Individual response

Although dead probiotics exert some effect, they’re generally not very useful. Unfortunately, by the time you purchase an average bottle of probiotics, most have already died. And you won’t know it.

People also respond very differently to the same strain, likely due to their body’s unique balance of beneficial commensal and pathogenic colonies.


Postbiotics are a lesser-known class of bioactive substances that are technically produced by probiotic microbes. When probiotics ferment non-digestible fiber, they create powerful health-benefitting metabolic byproducts. These include enzymes, peptides, teichoic acid, short-chain fatty acids, and others.

The best examples of healthy postbiotic substances include:

  1. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs): SCFAs, such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate, have anti-inflammatory properties and play a role in maintaining gut (and brain) health.
  2. Bacteriocins: These antimicrobial peptides inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, promoting optimal microbial balance.
  3. Exopolysaccharides (EPS): EPS are complex carbohydrates with prebiotic effects, nourishing beneficial bacteria in the gut and promoting growth.
  4. Organic acids: Organic acids like lactic acid and acetic acid acidify the gut, which inhibits the growth of pathogens.
  5. Peptides and proteins: Peptides and proteins are bioactive molecules with antioxidant, immunomodulatory, or antimicrobial properties. Check out this post to learn about the power of using therapeutic peptides for health & performance.

Unlike probiotics, postbiotics are non-living and provide health benefits without needing viable bacteria. Making them more stable and less influenced by common supplement manufacturing issues (like temperature and pH).

Postbiotics have a variety of beneficial effects on health. Generally, they reduce inflammation, act as antioxidants, promote gut health and integrity, modulate the immune system, may extend longevity, and even improve cognition.

Despite the promise, however, the term “postbiotic” is relatively new and lacks the research of probiotics. As do most of the following.


Synbiotic is another newer term that constitutes the combination of a probiotic with others from this list (usually prebiotics). In theory, the prebiotic compounds aid the survival, colonization, and effectiveness of the probiotic organisms.

They’re also sometimes called “Transbiotics”. As the name implies, synbiotics should have a synergistic “1+1=3” kind of effect. Far greater than the sum of the parts.

Usually, synbiotic supplement products simply combine one prebiotic fiber as the fuel for one probiotic bacteria strain.

Compared to prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics, synbiotics have even less data investigating their power. And brands are only now starting to create synbiotic supplements.

Like probiotics and prebiotics, synbiotics:

  • Support gut health
  • Improve the immune system,
  • Enhance nutrient absorption

Synbiotics produce more reliable results than either prebiotics or probiotics alone. In theory, synbiotics should far surpass the effectiveness of the other biotics on this list.

We’ll see how that holds up when research begins focusing on them.

Since synbiotics must contain prebiotic dietary fibers resistant to digestion, they too can cause digestive discomfort (bloating and gas) if you have FODMAP sensitivity.


Psychobiotics are another newer term describing microorganisms (like probiotics) that benefit mental health & cognition specifically [R]. They’re basically a subset of prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics with greater affinity for the mind [R].

Researchers believe that psychobiotics specifically work on the signaling between the gut and the mind. They call this pathway the “gut-brain axis”. Psychobiotics also appear to work by modulating the stress pathways (HPA Axis) [R].

Potential benefits of psychobiotics include:

  • Lessening symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Boosting mood
  • Elevating memory and general brain function
  • Stress inoculation
  • Optimizing sleep

Psychobiotics work by producing brain chemicals, like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, that play a crucial role in mood regulation. Some psychobiotics work on the endocrine system too, reducing inflammation and lowering cortisol levels. In turn, also benefits mental health.

The most common sources are special strains within Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The same classes we get through diet, although I’m skeptical that we can get appreciable amounts through food and drink alone.

Expect to see more research into psychobiotics over the coming years (and decades)!


Sporebiotics, also called soil-based organisms (SBOs) or spore-based probiotics, are the superheroes of the probiotic world. These come from special bacterial spores that contain a protective outer layer. Making them naturally resistant to harsh environments (such as heat, stomach acid, and even radiation). Unlike most probiotics, these easily reach the intestines intact where they “awaken” and proliferate.

Experts consider these ancestral probiotics, as they’re derived from the soil (hence the protective mechanisms).

Examples of spore probiotics include:

  • Bacillus coagulans
  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Bacillus licheniformis
  • Bacillus clausii

Their resilience makes sporebiotics far more convenient and effective. We can take them at any time, with or without food, and products do not need to use stomach-acid-resistant enteric coating on their capsules.

Potential benefits of sporebiotics include:

  • Favoring healthy gut microbiota balance
  • Stronger immunity
  • Reduced systemic inflammation
  • Better digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Treating conditions (diarrhea, IBS, IBD, allergies)
  • Overall gut health and regular bowel movements

Plus, certain strains show remarkable antibiotic resistance properties. If you’re taking antibiotics, sporebiotics may help protect you.

The real benefits of sporebiotics are their ability to withstand degradation which increases shelf-life/stability, allows smaller doses to exert powerful benefits, and more effectively colonizes the gut.

Unlike other probiotics, however, sporebiotics aren’t native to the human gut. And we know less about their long-term health effects.

Benefits & Uses of Microbiome Support Supplements

he gut microbiome shapes virtually every facet of human health, well-being, and performance.

It connects or indirectly influences most organ systems.

Microbiome support supplements aren’t all bad.

As you’d expect, pre/pro/post/syn/psycho/sporebiotics have wide-ranging benefits, including improved:

  1. Gut Health: Rebalance to a healthy gut microbiome. Aid digestion, and growth of beneficial bacteria, protect the gut lining, alleviate bloating, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel movements, and help prevent conditions like IBS, IBD, and ulcerative colitis [R].
  2. Immune Function & Health: 70% of immune cells reside in the gut, and these substances balance the microbiome and modulate immune responses. Strengthening the immune system and building resiliency against infections [R].
  3. Biological Aging: A balanced gut microbiome is associated with longevity and healthy aging. In fact, experts consider gut microbiome dysregulation a hallmark of aging. Consuming probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics potentially slows biological aging [R, R, R, R, R].
  4. Nutrient Absorption: Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics enhance your body’s absorption of essential nutrients from the food you eat, improving your overall health [R].
  5. Anti-Inflammatory: Postbiotics and certain probiotic strains reduce systemic inflammation throughout the body, benefiting conditions like IBD and reducing the risk of other inflammatory diseases [R, R].
  6. Mood, Cognitive & Mental Health: Our gut-brain axis plays a major role in mood and cognitive function. Probiotics, prebiotics, and especially psychobiotics improve mental health by creating and promoting levels of key neurotransmitters [R, R, R].
  7. Emotional Health & Nervous System Regulation: Nervous system dysregulation results from an imbalance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. Symptoms present as anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, GI upset, and imbalanced low blood pressure. The right biotics can help [R].
  8. Physical Performance: A healthy microbiome improves cellular energy generation and recovery from workouts, over time boosting athletic performance [R, R].
  9. Weight Loss: Certain probiotics and prebiotics influence weight, BMI, and body fat by increasing feelings of fullness, improving metabolism, and regulating blood sugar levels [R, R].
  10. Skin Health: Many probiotic strains have been linked to better skin health, and even aiding the treatment of conditions like eczema and acne [R, R, R, R].
  11. Allergic & Asthmatic Symptoms: Early data suggests that probiotics help reduce inflammation in the airways, helping people with allergies or asthma [R, R, R].
  12. Heart Disease Risk: Certain probiotic strains lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and blood pressure, theoretically reducing the risk of heart disease [R, R, R].
  13. Hormonal Regulation: Different forms of biotics impact neurotransmitters, hormones, and neurohormones like cortisol, orexin, oxytocin, histamine, epinephrine, melatonin, and more [R, R, R, R].
  14. Bone Health: Particular probiotic strains increase the absorption of key minerals like calcium, which improve bone health [R, R, R].
  15. Protection Against Pathogenic Bacteria: Many strains protect the body from harmful bacteria and pathogens by outcompeting them for resources and attachment sites in the gut [R, R, R].
  16. Liver Function & Health: Probiotics and short-chain fatty acids in particular, help rebalance the liver and provide support [R].
  17. Blood Sugar Regulation: Some prebiotics and probiotics improve blood sugar regulation, which is particularly important for diabetics [R].
  18. Lactose Intolerance Symptom Relief: Many probiotics improve the breakdown of lactose and alleviate the symptoms of intolerance [R, R, R].
  19. Oral Health: The mouth has its own microbiome that’s also key to health. Some probiotic strains fight harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease [R, R].
  20. Common Cold Severity: Probiotics may decrease the severity and duration of the common cold & flu [R, R, R].
  21. Preventing & Treating Diarrhea: Some probiotic strains prevent or reduce the severity of diarrhea, especially when it’s caused by particular viral infections or antibiotic use [R, R].
  22. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Research suggests that biotics benefit behavioral symptoms in children with ASD [R, R].
  23. Kidney Health: Short-chain fatty acids and other postbiotics support kidney health by regulating blood pressure and promoting natural detoxification [R, R].
  24. Sleep Quality: Emerging evidence links gut health to sleep quality. Therefore, probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics can indirectly improve sleep [R, R].

The issue with all these?

Very few probiotic strains, types of prebiotics, or other sporebiotics yield these effects.

Unless you buy an advanced formula, most do little more than support gut health.

Dangers & Side Effects of Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics hold tremendous promise, but they have their own share of issues, dangers, and side effects.

Very few people talk about their potential dark side.

This largely stems from the fact that scientists still don’t know much about the composition of a perfect gut microbiome. Let alone, how the ideal microbiome looks on an individual basis.

Popping generic probiotics has downsides too. Some potential problems with probiotic supplements include:

  1. Increased Histamine Levels: Some probiotic strains produce histamine in the digestive tract. This can trigger allergic reactions and/or inflammation in those sensitive to histamine.
  2. Discomfort: Folks often get bloating, gas, or upset stomach from taking these supplements, particularly when first starting.
  3. Medication Interactions: Probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics interact with some medications, making them far more (or less) powerful.
  4. Exacerbates Imbalances: While these compounds aim to balance gut flora, depending on your microbiome, they can also worsen balance. Potentially crowding out other beneficial bacteria.
  5. Quality Control: The quality and potency of over-the-counter probiotic and prebiotic supplements vary tremendously. Some third-party analyses show that the products contain entirely different strains than stated on the label.
  6. Wasted Money: Few products live up to their claims. Some might even cause harm. People can often better spend their money on the best supplements that have nearly universal health benefits.
  7. False Confidence: Inaccurate marketing claims can cause overconfidence in these supplements, absolving people from focusing on the fundamental pillars of health optimization.
  8. Unclear Dosages: Scientists haven’t established clear optimal dosing guidelines for these products. Most brands compete on sheer quantity (CFU) yet more might not work better.
  9. Unpredictable Side Effects: Human genetics and biochemical activity are fairly constant. But gut microbiota diversity between folks differs tremendously. Which can lead to unpredictable and potentially serious side effects for some people. Also, the side effect profile can change when most of the probiotics with a supplement die.
  10. Possible Infection: Some probiotics contain yeasts, which can cause fungal infections in people with weakened immune systems.

Everyone reacts differently to substances. But, the vast uniqueness of our microbiomes explains why the same product works wonders in some people and causes a laundry list of side effects in others.

The big red flags to me are the complete absence of quality control, lack of general understanding of how probiotics work, minimal research into interactions between strains, questionable efficacy, and dramatic differences in outcomes between individuals.

Luckily, instead of just popping a probiotic supplement like most, we can take a smarter approach.

Sharing the enlightening insights discussed by Dr. Nick Bitz, a Naturopathic Physician on a recent episode of Mind Body Peak Performance podcast. Dr. Bitz delved into the topics of probiotics, postbiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics, shedding light on essential considerations for choosing these supplements to optimize their benefits.

Beyond Probiotics: Alternatives & The Future of Gut Microbiome Optimization

Beyond DNA, three separate genomes together form the human existence:

  • Human genome
  • Mitochondrial genome
  • Microbial genome

Although ancient medical sciences like Ayurveda have written about the importance of digestion and the microbiome for 5,000+ years, modern science has only recently begun to rediscover it.

Just a decade or two ago, few people outside research labs discussed probiotics. Yet 2020 estimates showed that up to 66% of Americans use probiotics [R]. The market is only growing, projected to reach $10.32 billion by 2028 [R].

In this post, we explored the powerful synergy of stacking multiple microbiome-supporting ingredients together:

  • Prebiotics
  • Probiotics
  • Postbiotics
  • Synbiotics
  • Psychobiotics
  • Sporebiotics

When combining these together, the common benefits increase. Side effects decrease. The products just work better overall.

But savvy probiotics scientists know something most consumers don’t…

Most probiotic supplements are little more than expensive placebo pills. They don’t use the right formulas and lack key ingredients.

Sadly, few consumer-friendly products contain ideal science-backed formulas.

By the time they reach your hand, most probiotic supplements have decayed. The probiotics die. And they don’t provide nearly the same benefit.

The real magic will become clear once scientists begin studying these all-in-one biotic complexes.

I’ve tried dozens of products. Researched countless more. I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I’ve personally use and often hear rave reviews from others.

What about you? Do you use prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics, or probiotic alternatives? Let me know your experience in the comments below!

Also read our blog on Ginseng

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