Sixty to eighty percent of our immune system is located in our gut. Poor gut health has been linked to hormonal imbalances, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea, and more. Gut imbalances can also lead to big inflammation, so naturally, we want to tend to this inner garden as efficiently as possible.
Are probiotics “useless”?
You may have seen some dramatic headlines claiming that probiotics are “useless” and potentially “harmful” due to a recent study published. We beg to differ, and have outlined the many benefits of probiotics. Let’s take a closer look at the study and proposed conclusions.
To summarize, these papers state that probiotics ingested do not remain in the gut microbiome, therefore making them useless. However, the term probiotic is defined as live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confers a health benefit on the host. This does not require that probiotics function via interaction with the microbiota. However, this is not evidence that probiotics lack clinical or physiological effects. In fact, researchers in this field have known that most probiotics do not colonize or become part of the resident microbiota for thirty years.
Only a Single Product Tested
These papers provide extensive data about the impact of one product containing 11 common probiotic species on different microbiome measures. The authors also chose a product for this study that has been shown to have no demonstrated clinical benefits. Therefore, the researchers tested the potential benefits of a probiotic for which no benefits had been previously shown.
In addition, the papers show only a total count of bacteria for the product, as opposed to counts of each strain. This leaves us unsure as to how many strains of what probiotic were tested. The authors state about the product that “B. longum was probably represented by two strains.”
Results Based on One Small Study
This is only one study, on a small number of people, by one research group. Overarching, definitive conclusions cannot be made. This study was also conducted on healthy individuals, not those suffering from any digestive health-related condition.
Don’t discount that hundreds of randomized, placebo-controlled human clinical trials have shown that probiotics have efficacy for IBS, skin conditions, anxiety, depression, and more. Not all probiotics work for all conditions. But the safety record of probiotics administered to healthy as well as many patient populations is well-established. Even when probiotics do not colonize the gut, which they have been known to not do, they can still impact gene expression and the immune system.
Things to Keep in Mind
There is likely a difference between the probiotic strains tested in human clinical trials and the ones found on the average grocery store shelf. Be mindful about the type of probiotic that you choose!
Diet and lifestyle are still the most potent modulators of gut microbial composition, with diet being the primary determinant of microbiota composition. As always, you cannot supplement your way out of an unhealthy diet, focusing on making good dietary choices will reward you in good health.
Just like we say not one exact diet will work for everyone, it is likely that probiotics will work the same way for everyone. This field of research is rapidly advancing, with new science coming out constantly. Never accept one study as a definitive answer. Continue to stay up to date with us on the Clean Blog.
Written by Hannah Aylward
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