by Alice Monroe
Popular probiotics may not be as helpful as you think – and may even be harmful.
The concept of there being ‘good bacteria’ and bad bacteria’ is perhaps nothing new, though it is still something of a recent phenomenon when it comes to the branding and labelling of certain foodstuffs. Probiotics, which have been marketed as ‘good bacteria’ for the gut for several years now, have become commonplace in dairy and yogurt products the world over – with some brands relying on their supposed health benefits. Some, however, have always remained fairly sceptical over just how worthwhile taking probiotics actually is – and if a recent in-depth study in Israel is anything to go by, it appears that they might actually be fairly ineffective – though the jury is still out.
A research team at the Weizmann Institute of Science undertook a lengthy study of probiotics via a volunteer sample of 25 people, who elected to consume a regular drink including 11 different ‘good’ bacteria for up to a month. Following consumption, samples from the volunteers’ stomachs and intestines were taken and analysed for any evidence of positive change having been brought on by the introduction of such bacteria into the body. The results showed – in at least half the cases – the probiotics simply travelled through the digestive system without stopping – while the remainder appeared to get pushed out by existing bodily microbes. With this in mind – does this mean we have to completely rethink probiotics?
▶ Probiotics Can Potentially Hurt You, It Turns Out
Dr Eran Elinav, working with the study as published in the Cell journal, thinks that probiotics may have a future – but only if they are provided on a bespoke basis, tailored to individual patient needs. “Just buying probiotics at the supermarket without any tailoring, without any adjustment to the host – at least in part of the population – is quite useless,” Dr Elinav advised the BBC. The same research group also published data that showed potential delays in the re-establishment of healthy bacteria following courses of antibiotics.
“Probiotics have been around for a long time and they’re coming under more scrutiny,” advised Dr Trevor Lawley, also speaking with the BBC. “These are very innovative studies, but they are preliminary findings that need replicating.”
▶ Probiotics could delay recovery from antibiotics
This being said – it’s perhaps not time to discount probiotics completely – but don’t be too surprised if there are changes to the way they are marketed and analysed in the years to come. Who’s to say we can’t all benefit from a unique course of tailor-made bacteria at some point in the future?