Are The Benefits of Probiotics Overstated?

Probiotic use is largely misunderstood by consumers and even researchers, making many of the benefits overstated.

By: Amy Denney | The Epoch Times

There are several considerations when it comes to taking a probiotic—including choosing a strain with scientific backing that offers the benefit you need at the right dose.

Since the inception of probiotics—live microbes used to benefit the health of the host—they’ve been generally regarded as harmless, in part because they don’t actually colonize in the body. But they “can grow, metabolize, and interact” with other members of the microbial community to exert beneficial effects on our health, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP).

That makes probiotics of special interest to someone whose microbiome is perturbed by stress or antibiotic use as they can increase the commensal, or beneficial, bacteria while you are taking them. The microbiome is the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in and on the human body.

There’s no doubt that probiotics offer some pretty spectacular health benefits— particularly when it comes to conditions of the gut. New studies are rapidly indicating benefits for assisting with infections outside the gut, supporting the immune system, managing cholesterol levels that are nudging upward, as well as helping with psychological symptoms and obesity.

However, that’s led to high consumer demand for products that may be ahead of conclusive research and doctor recommendations. In many cases, probiotics are being misused and misunderstood. Their lack of regulation means many products may not be effective or safe.

Some warn that we should have a healthy amount of scepticism about probiotics—especially the ones you find on store shelves—being benign or even causing damage to your health. Often the effects of probiotics are overstated or generalized, which heightens confusion and discouragement surrounding probiotics as a supplement.

There’s No Microbial ‘Blueprint’

Probiotics are typically sold as either a food or a supplement product. They also naturally occur in fermented foods and are present in fruits and vegetables.

The efficacy of probiotics is at least a century old, dating before antibiotics were discovered. Alfred Nissle found that a nonpathogenic strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) could be isolated from the feces of people who were exposed to severe enteric diseases—severe bloody diarrhoea—but didn’t develop symptoms. He went on to do several research studies using that E. coli strain to successfully treat sick patients, and Mr. Nissle eventually developed it into a capsule product.

In the decades since evidence has been found for many other probiotic-centric treatments. However, for people who want better gut health but don’t know specifically what’s wrong with them, finding the right probiotic can be a bit like a needle in a haystack. Science simply hasn’t been broadly established.

Gastroenterologist, author, and researcher Dr. Sabine Hazan told The Epoch Times that one of the biggest misconceptions about probiotics is that they will solve dysbiosis or the imbalance between commensal and pathogenic organisms in the gut. Unfortunately, she said, the market is diluted with products that didn’t prove beneficial in research.

“When a product doesn’t make it through a clinical trial and doesn’t show efficacy, you’re allowed to take that bacteria and put it out as a nutraceutical,” Dr. Hazen said. “That’s what’s happening now. We’re seeing all these probiotics coming one by one, but the answer is not in a probiotic.”

Some Probiotics Should Never Be Part of Your Microbiome

Consuming even one strain of a bacteria will affect the whole microbiome, whether you notice benefits or not. If it happens to be a strain that’s not part of your “microbiome signature,” it could cause problems, Dr. Hazan said.

“Everybody has a signature microbiome. That signature is what defines who you are, what makes you intelligent, what makes you happy, what makes you crave a certain kind of food,” she said. “When you start globalizing the whole microbiome and you start thinking one microbe from the Italian population now should be in the Chinese population, you are altering that fingerprint microbiome of that person and you could alter their disease pathway.”

Removing microbes is even more problematic. Dr. Hazan said stool microbial analysis tests that are increasing in use can be misleading. Not even the researchers using them fully understand the results, including whether the microbes represented in the stool are alive or dead inside the patient.

“It fools consumers into thinking they have a problem with their bowel, and the microbe is the problem and then they start taking antibiotics, which kills all microbes,” she said. “It’s the loss, not the overgrowth, which causes disease.”

Researchers have not been able to develop a standard or model for a healthy human microbiota. In fact, despite the rise of technology that makes identifying microbes faster, not every microorganism living in humans has been identified. New microbes are constantly being discovered. There are more than 40 trillion bacterial cells alone that live in the human colon.

7 Ways Probiotics Detoxify Your Body

Guidelines For Using Probiotics

Still, some scenarios may warrant the use of a probiotic. The ISAPP is working to educate doctors and patients about the circumstances that call for probiotics—as well as other “biotics,” a term that encompasses all microbiome-supported substances such as prebiotics, synbiotics, and postbiotics.

The non-profit organization participated in the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) guidelines for using probiotics and prebiotics. Among its work is to dispel myths, help consumers understand when to ask their doctor for a probiotic, and explain how to read labels to pick out a good probiotic.

In 2022, the global market for probiotics was estimated to be $57.8 billion, and it’s expected to grow to $85.4 billion by 2017, according to the consulting firm MarketsandMarkets.

With more people buying into probiotics for their health, the challenge for groups like ISAPP is to educate consumers about what to look for in labels, and how to match dosing needed for a condition.

Any probiotic marketed with a recommended health use, such as “promotes digestive health,” should include on its label:

  • Storage information: Some are required to be refrigerated but that doesn’t change the effectiveness, according to ISAPP.
  • Manufacturer name and contact information: This is important for reporting adverse events, which are rare.
  • Serving size: This helps consumers who are matching dosage to an expected benefit.
  • Colony forming units (CFUs): This can range from 100 million to 50 billion. Often, there is die-off of probiotics during their shelf life, so the label is usually referring to the minimum that will be in the product by the expiration date.
  • Expiration date: Using it by this date ensures it will contain the CFUs on the serving size.
  • Strain: This should include the genus, species, and specific strain. This will help you be able to research the specific benefits that may be expected based on clinical evidence.

The WGO report pointed out, that the genus, species, subspecies, and strain designations are agreed upon by the scientific community. However, the trade and product names, as well as strain designations in the marketplace are not universally uniform. This can make it more challenging to link benefits to specific strains at the most effective dose.

Be A Probiotic Detective

The Alliance for Education on Probiotics, with grant support, has taken some of the guesswork out by putting together a searchable chart with broad categories for adult health, women’s health, pediatrics, and functional food. Within those, users can filter for specific conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or mood disorders, and end up with a list of products sorted alphabetically that includes information on the brand name, strain, and dosing.

Most importantly, each has a designated level—three in all—based on clinical evidence. Level I is the highest, or most effective, denoting at least one “well-designed” trial that was randomized for comparison.

There’s good evidence for a match between a symptom or disease and a strain or blend of strains in certain situations. Some have only one study to support them, while others have several. In many cases—particularly the use of probiotics for stress, anxiety, and depression—science is still emerging, meaning it needs replication or larger studies to validate early findings.

Applying the filter for IBS produces 26 results. Among them are three variations of a product called Align—a capsule, a chewable tablet, and an extra-strength capsule—that all include Bifidobacterium longum (formerly B. infantis), strain 35624. Dosing information and the CFUs are listed, as well as four studies found on a drop-down menu.

Bifidobacterium species have a history of safety, and, along with Lactobacillus, are the common ones found on the Alliance for Education on Probiotics chart. Dr. Hazan touts the benefits of increasing our Bifidobacteria, which are some of the earliest microbes to populate the human gut in infancy and are the ones we lose as we age.

While trendy newer probiotics like Akkermansia are getting a lot of attention, she said this genus hasn’t proven itself yet. It is not on the chart.

Leveraging Diet To Boost Healthy Microbes

Dr. Hazan said we can also boost our gut microbes through fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented vegetables, which are often a safer option compared to nutraceuticals.

However, fermented foods are less likely to be tested for health benefits, according to the ISAPP, and they may be processed by pasteurization, baking, or filtering in ways that remove live cultures. However, fermented food was highlighted in ISAPP’s 2023 review as an area that is beginning to receive more attention.

Understanding exactly how fermented foods work to improve host health is a bit of a mystery, in part because of the complexities of studying food with living organisms. The ISAPP points to research, including a trial of healthy people whose inflammatory markers reduced after 10 weeks of consuming six servings of fermented foods daily. However, it says more studies are needed to confirm and quantify therapeutic benefits.

The microbiome also thrives on a diverse diet that includes a great deal of different colours each day, according to Dr. Hazan. As healthy as salad is, eating the same one every day may not be the best choice for the gut microbiome.

“It’s never a one-pill solution,” she said. “You can regain your health the natural way with vitamins and nutrition.”

*  *  *


Can A Dental Infection Cause A Massive Heart Attack?

For literally hundreds of years now, the idea that a dental infection could seed, initiate, and promote virtually all chronic degenerative diseases has been hotly debated in the medical and dental communities, often with much more passion and hyperbole than with science.

This “debate” continues today, and nothing encapsulates this focal infection link between the mouth and the body better than the root canal-treated tooth. And while the root canal-treated tooth is certainly not the only significant source of dental infection and toxicity, it is easily the most devastating one—as you will soon see.

Conventional Dentistry Refuses to Inform Patients about the Risk of a Dental Infection from a Root Canal Procedure

The “success” of a root canal-treated tooth for a given individual depends on the goal of the root canal procedure. If the goal of a root canal procedure is to retain a pain-free natural tooth for both esthetic and chewing function, then the root canal procedure is frequently “successful.”

Continue reading …

*  *  *

READ MORE: The Midnight Hour: Astrology Overview December 18th – 24th, 2023

Awareness! 7 Reasons To Abandon Your Comfort Zone & Why You’ll Never Regret It

Enjoyed it? Please take a moment to show your support for Collective Spark.

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Collective Spark Story please let us know below in the comment section.

The Epoch Times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *