The human microbiome may be a hot topic in science these days, but it wasn’t always. “When we were trying to figure out the science of probiotics 20 years ago, it was a totally different world,” says Noam Ship, scientific advisor for Bio-K+, a Canadian probiotic manufacturer. “There was not much appreciation for how much the human microbiome could impact your health. We had to spend a lot of time educating people that microbes could improve our health.” Since then, he says, there has been a huge explosion in interest.

The founders of Bio-K+ laid the groundwork for this interest with their drinkable probiotic that came on the market in 1996. The drink incorporated three key strains that have been clinically proven to improve resistance to infection and illness—strains that Bio-K+ still uses in their formulas: Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285®, Lactobacillus casei LBC80R® and Lactobacillus rhamnosus CLR2®.

The founders of Bio-K+ started fermenting each individual strain in milk, says Noam. The bacteria grew quite well, but only up to a potency of about one billion microbes. “When we started combining all three strains together, they grew to over 50 microbes.” The synergistic effect is a result of the fact that they don’t fight each other for food. “One of them digests their favorite product, then the others digest the byproduct. It’s a way to boost their efficacy.”

That efficacy was demonstrated immediately when they began to see the beneficial effects Bio-K+ was having on its consumers. “A lot of our clinical research started after we were on the market,” says Noam. They started following up with people whose lives were improved by the probiotic, and focused on showing the benefits of Bio-K+ for infection prevention. “A probiotic has to be really potent in order to have a real effect. And we had found strains that were potent enough to do what you want them to do.”

Part of that potency comes from the guaranteed bioactivity of each supplement. “Our bacteria need to be alive at the right potency in order for them to work,” says Noam. And Bio-K+ has perfected the process of ensuring this potency; their drinkable products can survive 4 months in the fridge, and their blister pack-sealed capsules can last up to 2 years in the fridge.

The capsules—a newer addition to the Bio-K+ line—feature freeze-dried probiotics that are enteric coated with a vegan, seaweed-based coating that ensures survival to the intestines, where probiotics do their work. Most freeze-dried bacteria will die very quickly in gastric acid, says Noam, so this unique process ensures that they get to where they need to be.

It’s also been shown to be a strong player in the fight against Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that’s commonly found in hospitals and can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Bio-K+’s formulations can now be found in hospitals around the US and Canada. “Hospitals in Quebec were seeing bad outbreaks of C. difficile infections from antibiotic overuse,” says Noam. So a few of them decided to try simultaneous use of Bio-K+ probiotics. The trials showed that Bio-K+ reduced the risk of diarrhea in antibiotic users by about half and dramatically reduced the risk of C. difficile infections, too.

The result of Bio-K+’s efficacy is that now more than 150 hospitals in the US are keeping the probiotic on hand to help complement the use of antibiotics.

While everyone’s microbiome is unique, the three synergistic strains that Bio-K+ identified two decades ago seem to be helpful from across the spectrum in people of different ages, ethnicities and geographic backgrounds.

Explore drinkable Bio-K+ products in Pharmaca’s California stores, or shop for their potent capsules online.