For this study, researchers from Penn State University wanted to assess how microbes in the human gut could impact the absorption of toxic metals (like mercury) versus the absorption of good metals, like iron.

To do so, they looked at different gut bacteria, as well as the genetic determinants of how the body interacts with metals. As graduate student and lead study author, Daniela Betancurt-Anzola M.S., notes in a news release, they were particularly looking for genomes that allowed bacteria to convert mercury into less toxic forms.

Using something called “metagenomic sequencing,” they studied how different human and mouse bacteria responded to mercury, and used a probiotic to detoxify mercury found in the human diet. They’re now working on making this probiotic even better at blocking the absorption of dangerous metals.

“It’s a perfect probiotic for this because we have previously shown it works in humans, and now we are engineering it to make it even better,” Betancurt-Anzola says, adding, “It is inside the gut, it grabs the methylmercury, then it goes out.” 

Of course, this lab-designed probiotic isn’t available to consumers, so in the meantime, getting on a quality-probiotic regimen may be able to help your gut ward off toxic metals. Here are our absolute favorite probiotics to check out if you’re not sure which to choose.