Probiotics containing bacteria suitable for our gut can be useful, but despite widespread advertising, consuming foods with them can be a big mistake.
The active bacteria product industry has one small and very nasty secret: this industry is based on highly distorted scientific facts.
If you are considering whether you should try probiotics, then here is some additional food for thought. They are added not only to most yoghurts, they are added almost everywhere - from popcorn to mixes for baking cupcakes.
The company Grand View Research, which collects statistics for business, reports that it is predicted that over the next 7 years the probiotic market will reach $ 7 billion!
But the most interesting thing is that all this business is built only on a very small part of scientific facts, and everything else is nothing but fiction.
“Many products in our market are labeled“ contain probiotics, ”but few have been tested for positive health effects,” said Ph.D. Mary Ellen Sanders, a research fellow at an international scientific association dedicated to the study of probiotics and prebiotics.
According to scientific evidence, probiotics are useful, but only if the body really needs them.
Of course, this is not at all what I would like to hear to people whose refrigerators are filled to capacity with all sorts of probiotic products.
“The benefits of adding probiotics to food, especially if the food is n’t dairy, are dubious,” said Shira Doron, a professor of medicine and an infectious diseases doctor at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The use of many probiotic supplements simply does not live up to the promise of the packaging.
Probiotics are absolutely useless for people who do not suffer from any specific diseases that require their admission.
"At the moment, there is no evidence that probiotics are useful," Sanders adds.
The following thought she expressed is even more important:
There is no need to take probiotic supplements to a healthy person .
Probiotics are living microorganisms necessary for the restoration and feeding of bacteria that live in the human intestine. Most people relate to their intake in much the same way as taking vitamins.
Theoretically, taking vitamins should make up for their deficiency in your daily diet. Therefore, properly selected multivitamins can be very useful for people with an insufficiently balanced diet.
The situation is different with probiotics.
Multivitamins can benefit almost everyone, as their goal is to make up for the lack of essential substances. Probiotics are designed to treat any dysfunction .
The use of probiotics is necessary if the composition of the intestinal microbiome is for some reason deviated from the norm. That is, the reception is useful, for example, with irritable bowel syndrome.
But if you do not suffer from any diseases of this kind, then taking these drugs is unlikely to benefit you.
The effect of probiotics on the intestines
Perhaps after everything you read, you ask yourself:
How is it possible the emergence and existence of a business in which such a huge amount of money revolves, if its whole base consists in the poorly proven statement "perhaps this is useful"?
It's all about the very complex nature of our intestines. It is so complex that science needs much more time to study it.
“The human microbiome contains 200 trillion microorganisms and more than a thousand of their species,” says Doron.
This requires very large and serious studies by microbiologists, therefore, the effect of probiotics is still not so studied.
“We have a lot of theories about what's going on, but we still don't know how it all works,” Doron says.
The reasons why what is written on the labels of probiotic supplements may not work are as follows:
- Different additives act differently, and there are a lot of varieties.
- Each probiotic can have more than one effect.
- Each person has an individual susceptibility to any of the bacterial strains.
Researchers are currently trying to identify the potential benefits of probiotics that prove their beneficial effects on the body.
One theory is that as soon as they reach the intestines, they begin to absorb carbohydrates obtained from food and produce short-chain fatty acids. These acids, in turn, serve as food for other microbes living in the intestines, and this, in turn, leads to the production of additional amounts of fatty acids.
Why is all this so important?
The fact is that short-chain fatty acids are needed to create a normal microbiome and they help maintain colon health.
Another theory is that probiotics, reaching the small intestine, begin to interact with the immune cells lining its walls. Perhaps this leads to a positive response of the immune system, manifested by a decrease in the frequency of respiratory diseases and a better response to vaccines.
Some studies suggest that probiotics increase the integrity of the intestinal barrier, which is where the claim has come from that they help with bowel problems.
But at this stage of the development of science, all this remains only hypotheses. Perhaps their influence is really so beautiful, but it is not known whether it is so useful for healthy people.
So what do probiotics really do?
Probiotics can help cure certain bowel diseases associated with dysfunction. If you follow this statement, active bacteria are the best medicine for the following diseases:
- irritable bowel syndrome and its inflammatory diseases;
- diarrhea and constipation associated with these conditions or caused by taking antibiotics;
- liver problems.
Some studies also suggest that taking certain probiotics can help the immune system and possibly even reduce the risk or duration of colds.
But the possible advantages directly depend on the strains of microorganisms used. Also, the delivery of the drug to the necessary zone itself raises questions. That is why it is still unknown whether microorganisms survive from food additives and yoghurts in the stomach and whether they then act in a charitable way on the intestines.
“Any probiotic consumed, or a combination of them, is just a small drop in the ocean,” Doron explains. "In our research group, we found that if a person takes supplements containing, for example, lactobacilli, then their influence is so small that we can’t even fix any changes in the colonies of lactobacillus bacteria that live in the intestines."
Can probiotics help in the absence of health problems?
Before taking probiotic drugs, be sure to consult your doctor, especially if you have any disorders in the functioning of the immune system or other serious diseases.
If in general you are healthy, then taking probiotics is unlikely to worsen your well-being. If you take them as supplements, watch yourself for a month and see how your body reacts. You may feel better, but remember that this may be due to the placebo effect.
“Taking probiotics is worth it if you really feel better, but it's all too expensive,” commented Doron.
If you are healthy and you have money to allow yourself a little experiment on yourself - then try. As mentioned above, it may be beneficial for the immune system and will lead to an additional amount of short chain fatty acids produced. But only over time will it be possible to say with certainty whether taking probiotics is useful for healthy people.
What should I do if I have any medical conditions?
First of all, we recommend stopping consuming all foods enriched with probiotics. Also, do not do any tests for microbiome, which supposedly help to identify which strains of bacteria you should use.
"At this stage, it is impossible to draw any conclusions about exactly how the composition of the microbiota affects the health of each individual person," says Doron. "Right now there are more questions than answers in this area."
The best thing you can do is to consult a doctor who is aware of your illness and at the same time has some ideas about the concept of "microbiome" and probiotics. Doron advises looking for such specialists in special medical research centers.
“Look for doctors who have a microbiome in their area of interest,” says Doron. This area is still too new, and even for world-famous experts, it now has more questions than answers. Especially when it comes to adjusting the composition of the human microbiome in order to treat any disease. But there are doctors of various specialties who are interested in the influence of changes in the composition of the intestinal microflora or conduct research on their own. They use the acquired knowledge to treat patients. "
Remember that you are treating dysfunction, so probiotics can be very helpful. Follow your doctor's recommendations when choosing a strain and dosage. Usually the strains have a long name and very often a number is included in it, for example, L. acidophilus NCFB 1748 .
Dosage is the number indicated by large numbers on the label, for example, 10 billion colony forming particles or CFU.
Avoid products that say CFU at the time of production.
“Such a phrase about probiotic is a blunder,” Sanders explains. "The number of living microorganisms decreases over time, so you need to look for drugs that indicate CFU for the entire shelf life."
The front of the box with the drug indicates the total CFU; on the side, CFU for each specific strain can be indicated. Look for the names that your doctor has prescribed for you. If the product is stored in the refrigerator in the store, also store it in the refrigerator and at home to maintain the maximum number of CFU.
Finally, you need to pay attention to the presence of any seal from a third-party verification system to make sure that the preparation contains exactly those strains that are indicated on the label.
Currently, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) is working with US pharmaceutical companies (USP) to verify probiotics, that is, USP markings, usually a quality mark, have not yet been introduced into use. In the United States, however, you can find labels from NSF, the organization involved in testing, certification and inspection of various products. But remember that statements in the spirit of "quality guaranteed" do not mean at all that the products were checked by any special organizations for product control.