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5+ Promising Potential Benefits of the Probiotic B. subtilis

Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:

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Probiotics containing the antioxidant-producing B. subtilis have produced promising results in studies of constipation and H. pylori infections. They may also help support the immune system, liver function, and dental health. What is the latest science on this previously popular probiotic? Find out here.

What is Bacillus subtilis?

Bacillus subtilis is a spore creating Gram-positive bacterium, found in soil and the gastrointestinal tract of ruminants, such as cattle, goats, and sheep. It is also found in the human GI tract.

Bacillus subtilis can survive in harsh environmental conditions. Its spores can survive up to 6 years in space if coated by dust particles protecting it from solar UV rays [1].

This bacterium is widely used on an industrial scale by biotechnology companies, for the production of enzymes, pharmaceutical components, and GMOs. As a human probiotic, however, Bacillus subtilis has been somewhat neglected.

Bacillus subtilis cultures were popular worldwide before the introduction of antibiotics when Bacillus subtilis was used as an immunostimulatory agent to aid the treatment of gastrointestinal and urinary tract diseases. After the 1950s, with the introduction of antibiotics, this probiotic declined in popularity.

On the other hand, Bacillus subtilis has been extensively used in the livestock and poultry industries as antibiotic alternatives [2].

Bacillus subtilis is used in the commercial production of the Japanese food natto, as well as the similar Korean food cheonggukjang. Furthermore, a formulation containing a combination of Enterococcus faecium and Bacillus subtilis has been available and widely used in Asia since 1994 [3].

Antioxidant Activity

B. subtilis has demonstrated DNA protective and antioxidant (superoxide scavenging) activity in a laboratory setting [4].

A B. subtilis signal molecule induces the heat shock protein Hsp27 in mammalian cells, which protects intestinal cells against oxidant-mediated tissue damage and loss of barrier function [5].

Potential Benefits of B. subtilis

B. subtilis probiotic supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Possibly Effective For

1) Gut Health

Gut Microbiota

Ingestion of significant quantities of B. subtilis spores is thought to restore the normal gut microbiota in humans following extensive antibiotic usage or illness [2].

B. subtilis increases Bifidobacteria, decreases some Clostridium groups [6], and enhances the growth of L. reuteri and L. acidophilus in laboratory experiments [7].

Constipation

A combined regimen of lactulose and live binary B. subtilis is an effective and safe therapeutic method for elderly with functional constipation [8].

Diarrhea

B. subtilis significantly reduced the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in patients, and prevented nausea, bloating, vomiting and abdominal pain [9].

In one of the Asian clinical trials, a mixture of E. faecium and B. subtilis improved abdominal pain, distention, and fever in patients with acute diarrhea. However, most of the trials did not find a significant difference with these probiotics in acute diarrhea treatment [3].

Results were more encouraging in chronic diarrhea patients, where a significant increase in Bifidobacteria levels following therapy was observed. Treatments also prevented diarrhea relapse [3].

IBS

B. subtilis together with E. faecium significantly reduced the severity and frequency of abdominal pain in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in a single Asian clinical trial, however other results are not as convincing, and further studies are needed [3].

IBD

In Asian studies involving patients with ulcerative colitis, the addition of a B. subtilis probiotic significantly reduced the number of days with bloody stool, led to complete remission without relapse, and significantly increased the efficacy of mesalazine or sulfasalazine therapy [3].

A higher dose of B. subtilis administration ameliorated dysbiosis and gut inflammation by balancing beneficial and harmful bacteria and associated anti- and pro-inflammatory cytokines in mice [10].

B. subtilis and its competence and sporulation factor (CSF) ameliorate intestinal inflammation and improve survival in mice with colitis [11, 12].

B. subtilis reduces inflammation and suppresses colitis in rats [13].

H. pylori

In a study of 352 patients, B. subtilis containing probiotics improved H. pylori eradication and decreased diarrhea and total side effects when used in conjunction with triple therapy [3].

Insufficient Evidence For

Researchers are currently investigating whether B. subtilis has other health benefits. The potential benefits in this section have produced positive results in at least one clinical trial, but these studies are small, contradictory, or otherwise limited. Talk to your doctor before supplementing with B. subtilis for any reason.

2) Infections

Bacteriocin of B. subtilis inhibited the growth of various pathogenic bacteria [14] and decreased the frequency of respiratory infections in 100 elderly subjects [15].

B. subtilis inhibited disease transmission in patients with acute non-typhoid Salmonella gastroenteritis [16].

B. subtilis isolated from soil shows antimicrobial activity against human pathogenic Candida albicans [17].

Metabolites of B. subtilis decrease the resistance of urogenital pathogenic microflora to antibiotics in patients with urinary tract infections, resulting in accelerated elimination [18].

Spores of B. subtilis attenuate the symptoms of Clostridium difficile infection in mice [19].

B. subtilis suppresses infection and enteropathy in suckling mice infected with C. rodentium [20].

4) Liver Function

According to a review, a probiotic containing both B. faecium and B. subtilis shifted the intestinal microbiota of 70 patients with liver cirrhosis back towards levels observed in healthy subjects. These probiotics also reduce circulating endotoxin levels in cirrhotic patients with endotoxemia [3].

5) Dental Health

Bacillus subtilis reduced periodontal pathogens in humans [21].

Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus licheniformis supplementation provided a protective effect against bone loss in rats with periodontitis [22].

Animal & Cell Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of B. subtilis for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

6) Obesity

B. subtilis decreases weight gain and alleviates oxidative stress in obese mice [23].

7) Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Diabetic patients who develop foot ulcers are at more risk of dying prematurely than those without the complication. B. subtilis shows antimicrobial activity against four diabetic foot ulcer bacterial pathogens. However, this activity has not been tested in clinical trials of human patients with foot ulcers [24].

8) Immunity

B. subtilis spores stimulate the immune response when co-administered with a vaccine for papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) in mice [25].

B. subtilis both can instruct a balanced Th1 and Th2 immune response to specific antigens in mice [26].

Intravenous injection of B. subtilis in mice induces plasma IFN-y production [27].

9) Skin Health

Continuous oral administration of B. subtilis alleviates the development of skin lesions in mice with atopic dermatitis [28].

10) Heat Stress

Exposure to extreme heat can cause illnesses and injuries. Bacillus. subtilis was effective in the prevention of complications related to heat stress in rats. When rats were subjected to heat stress (45 °C), adverse effects such as morphological changes in the intestine, bacterial translocation, elevated levels of LPS and IL-10, and increased vesiculation of erythrocytes were observed only in animals not protected with B. subtilis [29].

Cancer Research

Components of Bacillus subtilis inhibit colon cancer cell growth [30, 31], hepatocellular cancer cell growth [32], cervix carcinoma cell growth [33], and the growth of human leukemia cells [34] in laboratory experiments. These results do not reflect whether B. subtilis might be helpful in cancer prevention or therapy; they simply indicate that further research is warranted.

Mechanisms

Various studies have investigated B. subtilis’s effect on the cellular level. These may or may not reflect the mechanisms of B. subtilis probiotics in the human body; however, they may help account for some of the observed effects of these probiotics in human studies.

  • Increases IL-8, IL-12 [35] and TGF-β [13]
  • Mostly increases IL-10 [12, 11, 13] (a study where IL-10 is decreased: [35]
  • Increases IgA [15, 26] and IgG [26]
  • Decreases IL-4 [11], CXCL-1 [11]
  • Both decreases [11, 13] and increases IL-6 [35]
  • Both decreases [13] and increases TNF-α [35]
  • Both decreases [13] and increases IL-1β [35]
  • Both decreases [13] and increases IFN-γ [35]
  • Increases ACP, LDH, NO, and iNOS [35]
  • Decreases glutathione reductase (GR), xanthine oxidase (XO), heat-shock protein 90 (Hsp90), and lipid synthesis gene 3β-hydroxysteroid-∆24 reductase (DHCR24) [23]

Safety

Bacillus subtilis is safe and well tolerated by healthy adults [36, 37]. However, its use in rare cases can lead to bacteremia (infection) [38], hepatotoxicity [39] and heavy exposure to spores can cause allergic asthma [40].

To avoid adverse effects, talk to your doctor to determine whether probiotics are safe and appropriate for you.

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About the Author

Biljana Novkovic

Biljana Novkovic

PhD
Biljana received her PhD from Hokkaido University.
Before joining SelfHacked, she was a research scientist with extensive field and laboratory experience. She spent 4 years reviewing the scientific literature on supplements, lab tests and other areas of health sciences. She is passionate about releasing the most accurate science and health information available on topics, and she's meticulous when writing and reviewing articles to make sure the science is sound. She believes that SelfHacked has the best science that is also layperson-friendly on the web.

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