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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Study Spotlight: Probiotics: More Harm than Good?

Probiotic supplementation has been a very popular strategy as of late intended to improve overall health. Specifically probiotics may help improve gut health and function by optimizing the balance between "good" and "bad" bacteria throughout the digestive system. This in turn may help improve digestive functioning, reduce systemic inflammation and enhance your immune system.  For these reasons I have been a firm believer of probiotic supplementation and often recommended them as one of the best supplements for overall health and wellness. However, a recent report has made me think twice about probiotics or at least pay a little bit more attention to the quality and type of probiotic I am consuming.

What did they do?
Researchers out of Saudi Arabia assessed the quality and content of several commercially available probiotic supplements on the market. They collected samples of these probiotic strains and isolated them in petri dishes. From there, they exposed the probiotics to different classes of antibiotics which in theory should have eradicated the live strains.  However, much to there surprise they found some interest results.

What did they find?
What they found is rather troubling.  The researchers actually found that several of the probiotic strains actually appeared to be resistant to the antibiotic treatments suggesting that they in fact contained several strains of antibiotic-resistance bacteria.  This initially may not sound like a bad thing as you may think that we would want "good" bacteria to survive antiobiotic treatment to help keep things normal during a period of antiobiotic treatment for other medical issues. However, the authors pointed out that there may be a chance antiobiotic resistance nature of these probiotics could rub-off on "bad" bacteria or other pathogens that would then become resistant to antiobiotic treatment and we would be in a world of trouble (See the movie Contagion for more details). What's worse is that several of the probiotic supplements did not contain the actual amount of live bacteria that they marketed so in a sense you are also getting ripped off. But again, is that good or bad I don't know.

Take Home Message:
The apparent take home message from this article is that it may be too early to tell regarding the pros/cons of probiotic supplements. Up until recently they were thought to be beneficial to everyone, particularly those receiving antiobiotics. However, based on some of the recent research this may not be the case. Honestly, we may just have to wait and see whether or not the potential good outweighs the bad with probiotics.  Or at least make sure you are purchasing a higher quality option. Unfortunately, the researchers did not release the names of the commercially available products testing the previously mentioned study so we do not know which products to stay away from.


Reference:
  • Wong, Aloysius, et al. "Detection of antibiotic resistance in probiotics of dietary supplements." Nutrition journal 14.1 (2015): 1-6.
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