Posted on Aug 21, 2017, 8 a.m.
Probiotics have shown strong potential to support human health, however, the industry is unregulated and unpredictable.
Probiotics are a trendy ingredient in modern supermarket goods. Products containing strains of bacteria claim to treat digestive issues, skin problems, and a host of other health issues. While current research does not support many of these claims, there is also scientific proof that probiotics can be beneficial.
What are Probiotics?
A healthy digestive system is home to millions of different strains of bacteria. Some are beneficial to their human hosts. The good bacteria help the body break down food and allows better absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Beneficial bacteria use plant fiber as a food source. Modern diets heavy in processed foods deplete good bacteria, allowing bad strains to flourish. Unbalanced stomach flora contributes to gastrointestinal disorders like chronic diarrhea, irritable bowel symptoms, and ulcers.
Current Research on the Efficacy of Probiotics
According to the World Health Organization, the right amount of certain living microorganisms can have a positive effect on overall health. However, there is little clinical research to support most product claims.
The probiotics industry is new territory in the marketplace. Production is currently subject to the same oversight process as other over-the-counter supplements. Lack of regulatory standards and real clinical data mean wide variations between product content. In 2015, a study by the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Davis in California tested the ingredients of 16 popular probiotic products. Chemical analysis showed only 1 of the 16 products actually contained the ingredients on their labels.
Recent studies involving probiotic organisms have uncovered some thought-provoking data.
* In an analysis of several popular brands of yogurt, some were found to contain bacteria that does not survive long enough to reach the stomach. These products offer no therapeutic benefits, despite the labels’ claims.
* Some researchers are exploring the link between gut flora and conditions like autism and Parkinson’s disease.
* Laboratory scientists have found a way to manipulate certain bacteria to customize treatment for a variety of health conditions.
* Research published in the scientific journal Cell suggests that gene deletion in some bacterial strains can prolong the human life span.
More research is needed to understand what bacterial strains are most effective for certain conditions. Previous studies have also suggested that certain illnesses, prescription drugs, and hereditary predispositions can affect individual stomach flora and change the potential benefits of probiotic therapies. Dosage and frequency of ingestion for maximum efficacy are other important factors that need to be tested.
While it is generally accepted that probiotics are beneficial, there is little evidence that the products found on supermarket shelves will help. Buyers should continue to beware of outrageous and unsubstantiated claims.