The healthy gut booster is being added to air purifiers and cleaning products, with the promise of restoring the eco-balance of our indoor spaces (much like a shot of kombucha would recalibrate your body). But why exactly is this necessary? Isn’t loading up on kimchi and kefir enough?
“The bacteria in your food—and in your environment—changes what’s going on in your gut,” explains Dave Asprey, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-wellness expert who founded Bulletproof and changed the way a lot of people drink coffee along the way. He says that modern spaces suffer from an “epidemic of absence” when it comes to good bacteria in the home environment.
When you give your home a good scrub-down, cleaning products strip away all the bacteria that’s found its way inside. At the same time, people spend the vast majority of life indoors and not outside interacting with the soil. The result? People simply don’t come into contact with good, live bacteria the way they used to. And it’s gut health that’s paying the price.
Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein wrote a whole book, The Dirt Cure, about this very thing. Her research found that living in too sterile of an environment puts people at greater risk for developing allergies, having a weaker immune system, and even having a shorter attention span. And one study found that kids who grew up on farms (which, let’s be real, are a lot dirtier of a place to play than your living room) were less likely to develop asthma than suburban and urban-living kids.
An overly sterile, out-of-whack home environment also opens up space for toxic mold to flourish, because there’s simply not healthy competition to keep it in check, Asprey says. He came up for the idea of the company’s home probiotic offering, aptly named Homebiotic ($29.95), specifically because he grew up in a space beset by mold—and had a slew of health issues as a result.
“We thought, ‘What if we went back and put in all the stuff that would have been in the soil?’ So we put together a list of 30 bacteria, created a way to stabilize them, and then you mist it around the house,” he says. But before the image of dirt piling up in corners up your living room come to mind, rest assured—the spray mists are invisible.
“I do it every three months, but I recommend you do it every six months” he says, adding that he thinks of it as preventive. The idea is to try to stabilize and improve the broader environment, which in turn can affect the balance of your own body’s bacterial inner workings.
But he’s not the only one in the probiotic home game. BetterAir is another company on the front lines of the home movement, selling residential and commercial systems that are kind of similar to your standard air purifier, except that they create a protective, microscopic layer of probiotic microflora that coats the surfaces in a space. (A home unit that covers a space up to 800 square feet will set you back $299.) The company also sells a travel spray that comes in handy on a long flight where you’re contending with lots of strangers’ germs while in an environment that’s also weirdly sterile.
“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors…[so] if a building is sick, it is contagious in a way,” says Taly Dery, CEO of BetterAir North America. People who suffer from asthma and allergies can really benefit from a space with optimal bacterial balance, she says, partly because it simply affords their system a break before they head back outside to battle allergens.
Dery added, however, that because of FDA regulations, the company’s not allowed to make specific health claims for its products, nor would they. Probiotics for the home aren’t a panacea, and they’re not a targeted treatment. What they are is an interesting route to returning the indoor home environment back to a more natural state.
“A lot of people clean their houses with chemicals that kill bacteria,” Dery says. “What we’re trying to achieve is balance.”