As retailers target a wider market, more people are discovering probiotics. Should everyone be consuming probiotics in some form? Or have marketing whizzes overplayed their value?
Much of the research in the sector deals with effect of probiotics on disorders. Still, many ostensibly healthy people—those without chronic or acute diseases including cardiovascular, autoimmune, diabetes, obesity and others– also take probiotics.
Are probiotics helpful or a waste of money for healthy people?
Saman Khalesi and colleagues at Central Queensland University in Australia asked that question. They published their findings in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March 2018 as A review of probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: helpful or hype?
Relevant literature published between 1990 and August 2017 was reviewed. Studies were included if they were experimental trials, included healthy adults, used live bacteria, and had accessible full-text articles published in English
Forty-five studies survived the winnowing.
Five categories emerged: gut microbiota changes, immune system response, gastrointestinal discomfort, female reproductive health and lipid profile and cardiovascular disease risk.
Improvements were noted in the first four:
- Gut microbiota concentrations of supplemented bacteria increased.
- Immune system response to colds improved.
- Gastrointestinal function improved stool consistency and bowel movements.
- Vaginal lactobacilli concentration rose.
However, no evidence supported a role for probiotics in improving lipid profile which can be a cardiovascular disease risk factor.
Whereas probiotics weren’t batting 100%, beneficial changes in most areas for healthy people were striking.
Inferring that the review suggests healthy people may not need probiotic supplementation, as one media outlet put in the headline, is misleading.
As the authors of the study concluded:
“The feasibility of probiotics consumption to provide benefits in healthy adults requires further investigation.”
Of course. Science always requires further enquiry even if only for replication of results.
Meanwhile in this review, probiotics came out looking pretty good.