Primal Defense HSO Formula

Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula is one of 3 different probiotic supplement formulations in the Primal Defense family. Since the formulations are significantly different enough, this review is for the HSO one, and not the ULTRA or the KID’s formulas. This probiotic supplement is marketed to be “the only probiotic formula that contains a unique whole food blend with Homeostatic Soil Organisms (HSOs).”

It is also marketed to:

  • Help support the normal balance of gastrointestinal bacteria
  • Contain probiotics that promote regular bowel function
  • Contain probiotics which help maintain an already healthy immune system
  • Maximize the benefits of a healthy diet by supporting normal absorption and assimilation of nutrients in the gut
  • To have probiotics which survive stomach and bile acids
  • To be produced using a proprietary Poten-Zyme fermentation process which makes nutrients more available to the body

What Probiotic Strains are in Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula?

This supplement contains 12 species of microbes in the form of their HSO Probiotic Blend. Garden of Life states, “The HSOs in Primal Defense are important probiotics you would get in abundance if your food came from soil untouched by pesticides, herbicides and other widely used chemicals.” But what are HSOs?

Homeostasis is the tendency of something to maintain a condition of balance or equilibrium, such as the way your body is able to maintain a rather constant internal temperature of 98.6 degrees F no matter what the environmental temperature (within reason, of course.) A Homeostatic Soil Organism, then, is an organism which is from the soil and which maintains homeostasis. Garden of Life actually trademarked the phrase, as it has no real relevance in scientific terms. While some of their microbes may in fact be sourced from soil, there is no significance to their term.

Their proprietary HSO blend in Primal Defense HSO Formula consists of barley grass, oat grass and the following microbes:

Lactobacillus plantarum
Bifidobacterium bifidum
Bifidobacterium lactis
Lactobacillus rhamnosus
Bifidobacterium breve
Lactobacillus casei
Lactobacillus brevis
Lactobacillus salivarius
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Bacillus subtilis
Lactobacillus paracasei
Bifidobacterium longum

And it is created using microbes or their enzymes from the above-mentioned species and from:

Saccharomyces boulardii

There are two forms of this supplement, powder and caplets. The caplets and powder have the same microbes, but they are listed in a different order on the powder’s label than on the caplet’s label.

  • The powder contains 1 billion CFU per scoop for a total daily intake of 3 billion CFU at time of manufacture.
  • The caplets contain 1 billion CFU per caplet for a total daily intake of 3 billion CFU at time of manufacture.

What are the Other Ingredients in Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula? 

I’m really disappointed to see that Garden of Life does not list the ingredients of Primal Defense HSO Formula on their website. Reputable companies should always disclose ingredients before expecting you to order from them.

Looking at labels shown on other sites, the ingredients at the time of this writing (late April, 2016) are:

  • For the powder; silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), bacterial proteases, and probiotic cultures.
  • For the caplets: calcium carbonate, sodium croscarmellose (an emulsifier, see below), silica (flow agent), magnesium stearate (vegetable source flow agent), rice maltodextrin (anti-caking agent), vegetable coating, bacterial proteases, probiotic cultures.

Please verify ingredients of any supplement prior to taking it.

What is the Recommended Dosage of Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula?

For the powder and the caplets, the suggested use is for adults to take 1 scoop (1/3 teaspoon) OR 1 caplet 3 times per day with 8 ounces of water or juice, preferably on an empty stomach. It is recommended to begin with 1 scoop per day and gradually increase to the suggested amount.

What are the Pros of Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula? 

The pros of this probiotic supplement as I see them are:

  • Multi-species
  • Listed as gluten free, but made with possible gluten sources (see details below)
  • Other ingredients are limited in the powder formula
  • Vegetarian
  • Shelf-stable, but should be stored in a cool, dry place
  • Sold in stores as well as online
  • No artificial colors or preservatives
  • Produced under GMP or pharmaceutical-grade facilities
  • Third-party tested

Some positive reviews, with 4.8 out of 5 stars from 97 reviews, from the website stated:

“I ran out of this product and decided to try another probiotic for a change. I bought one at a local store. After a few days my old digestive problems (bloating, indigestion, nausea) returned despite taking the probiotics as directed with every meal. So, I hurried re-ordering this product from Vitacost. I'm so glad I found Garden of Life Primal Defense. Taking one a day in the morning on an empty stomach makes all the difference for me! Will stick with it for sure!” 11/17/15

“I love this! I was terrified to travel due to having to hurry to the bathroom when it was time and if not close enough, having a disaster happen. So embarrassing. Primal Defense has helped tremendously, granted it does not cure, but it certainly has made my situation livable within days and getting even better in less than 30 days!!” 11/2/15

“…I added it to my general health and fitness regimen some time ago and noticed that it helped combat my histamine-response (versus anaphylactic) food allergies. Since then, it has become one of my primary methods of preventing those reactions…” 2/10/16

What are the Cons of Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula?

The cons of this probiotic supplement as I see them are:

  • Only the species are given; you don't know which strains are in the product since the information is proprietary.
  • Only the total CFU is given; you don't know how much of each species is present.
  • The total CFU is at the time of manufacture, not at expiration, so you don't know if you are really getting the amount listed on the label by the time you take it.
  • Since neither the strains nor the amounts of each strain are listed, it is not possible to predict what effects this product will have.
  • The culture medium for the probiotics is dairy (milk allergy alert!)
  • The production of the enzymes utilizes wheat, dairy and soy. (Wheat, dairy, soy, barley grass and oat grass are possibilities, so multiple allergy/gluten alerts!) Although Garden of Life says that culture mediums are generally consumed during the fermentation process, there is always the chance of residues of these allergens.
  • Both the powder and caplets deliver 2.3 mg of iron. While this amount may be insignificant to some people, people who must watch their iron intake, particularly middle-aged women and men and people with hemachromatosis should be aware of this amount in their total dietary intake.
  • The caplets contain a significant number of additives.
  • The caplets contain sodium croscarmellose, a stabilized form of carboxymethlycellulose (CMC), a supposedly inactive pharmaceutical ingredient used as a matrix. Carboxymethyl cellulose has been shown to have detrimental effects on the integrity of the intestinal mucus layer at 2% concentration in IL-10 (an anti-inflammatory cytokine) – deficient mice which are susceptible to IBD (inflammatory bowel disease.) The mucosal layer in the intestines is supposed to act as a protective barrier against pathogens. Specifically, CMC was shown to induce massive bacterial overgrowth, with “leaky gut” spaces between intestinal villi, direct attachment of bacteria to mucosa and migration of bacteria to the crypts of the villi, causing infiltration of white blood cells into the inside space of the small intestine. These results are similar to that which is seen in humans with Crohn’s disease. (Swidsinski et al. 2009)
  • No studies with this supplement as a whole supplement have been performed to my knowledge. Note that this is not unusual, however. Very few multi-species probiotic supplements are used in studies. Instead, species and strains that are show to be effective are mixed together in most multi-species supplements such as this one. Whether or not the strains compete with each other in a laboratory setting is not known since we don’t know which strains are in it.
  • Compared to other multi-species probiotic supplements, this one contains a lower number of total CFU of 1 billion per capsule.

The negative reviews totaled 6% on and featured reviews like these:

“The product states it is gluten free, however it contains barley and oat grass, which can be gluten free, but if there are seeds present it will absolutely contain gluten. This product made me sick for weeks until I finally figured out what I was consuming that contained gluten, after reading other reviews.” 2/17/12

“They gave me a rash. If they did anything else I have no idea. I sent them to the friend that said he used the product, but it is not the one for me.” 6/13/14

“These are very large hard pills (tablets) not capsules (caplets) at all. I was very disappointed. I was getting much better results from eating yogurt daily than from these. It is past the time frame for return or I would do so in a heartbeat. I will never buy these again. Additionally, after starting to take these pills I started to have neurological issues. Issues such as dizziness, cognitive issues, ringing in my ears, migraines, and much worse…” 5/14/15

Where to Find Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula?

At the time of this writing (late April, 2016): has the powder and the caplets in bottles of 180 or 216 caplets.

Amazon Canada has the powder and the caplets in bottles of 90 caplets.

Amazon UK has the powder and the caplets in bottles of 90, 180 or 216 caplets.

Vitacost has the powder formula and the caplets in bottles of 45, 90, 180 or 216 caplets.

Is Garden of Life Primal Defense HSO Formula the Right Supplement for YOU?

If you would like help in determining if this probiotic supplement is right for you, please consider nutritional consultations with me. A supplement is just that: supplemental to other healthy lifestyle factors. A supplement should not replace good eating habits and taking care of oneself and nutrition consultations can certainly help with those.

Garden of Life has some very good products, but this may or may not be one of them. While many folks have success with Primal Defense HSO Formula, others seem to not just have no improvement in their conditions, but have adverse reactions. Please exercise caution with this supplement if you have allergies or sensitivities to wheat, gluten, milk or soy, or if you have any disruption in the health of your small intestine (celiac disease, Crohn’s, etc.)

Thanks to Ward for suggesting a review of this supplement!

Ward emailed me his response to this review and this is what he said,

"Jo, Thank you for your detailed analysis. Your work was unbiased and helpful for me to better appreciate the contents and purpose of the product. I have had satisfactory results from this product and will continue to use it.
Thank you, Ward"

I appreciate your response, Ward!

One Other Note

If you decide to take Primal Defense HSO Formula, I would combine the health benefits of it with the benefits provided by:

Other Probiotic Supplement Reviews

To read about my approach to supplement reviews, and about my reviews of other probiotic supplements, click here.

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