Patients often rely on health professionals to guide them on probiotics.
Questions abound: which conditions may benefit, which probiotic, what dosage and a multitude of others. Sorting through all the data and information available may cause confusion — not only in patients but also for the very people trusted to give advice.
Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians and others on the front line of care must sift through a barrage of messaging and research on probiotics to refine recommendations. Moreover, the wide range of available products along with considerations about strain-specific effects have made the terrain challenging.
How much do practitioners know? Where is more education needed?
Several recent surveys offer insight.
Survey #1: Europe & Australia
One online survey via email and social media platforms was conducted in 2018 using snowball sampling. A total of 1066 health professionals from 30 countries responded to the survey. The percentages mentioned below are rounded for ease of reading.
The respondents evaluated their knowledge of probiotics as medium (36%) or good (36%); only 9% of the respondents rated it as excellent. Yet on a positive note, the majority (82%) knew the correct definition of probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”
Lactobacillus acidophilus (92%), Bifidobacterium bifidum (82%), and Lactobacillus rhamnosus (62%) were the most frequently recognized species of bacteria containing probiotic strains from a provided list of microorganisms.
Respondents also said that probiotics may be beneficial in the following conditions:
- During antibiotic therapy: cited by 90% of respondents
- Diarrhea: 84%
- Constipation: 71%
- When traveling abroad: 63%
- Allergies: 60%
Notably, almost 79% of health professionals involved in this study have advised their patients to use probiotics and 58% of the respondents wanted to learn more about probiotics.
See the paper for details about the questionnaire (which includes other interesting items such as self-use and prime sources of information) and statistical analysis.
Survey #2: Saudi Arabia
In 2021, a study reported on knowledge, attitudes and understanding of probiotics among pediatricians in different regions of Saudi Arabia.
Of the random sample of 550 distributed, 82% responded to the questionnaire. The majority (58%) of respondents were aware of the definition of probiotics however more than half of the pediatricians reported that they had little or no knowledge of probiotics.
The most common probiotic prescribed by all participants was Lactobacillus acidophilus (63%). In addition, 86% said thatprobiotics were prescribed to improve digestion and improve gastrointestinal immunity. However, the researchers noted that the knowledge dearth points to a lack of educational resources in some regions of Saudi Arabia.
Survey #3: Mexico
Results from another online survey distributed in Mexico to gastroenterologists, nutritionists and other healthcare specialists was published in 2019.
A full 71% of respondents knew the definition of probiotics with the majority (65%) “always” recommending them.
What’s more, 97% of the gastroenterologists and 98% of the nutritionists evaluated probiotics as effective in gastrointestinal symptom management and considered them safe.
Probiotics are fast entering into healthcare conversations, recommendations and even formularies, often at the request of the patient. The professionals prescribing or recommending probiotics are eager to learn. Armed with targeted education on evidence-based probiotic research, these providers will be able to lead the discussion, ensuring better guidelines and policies at their institutions.
Fijan, Sabina et al. “Health Professionals’ Knowledge of Probiotics: An International Survey.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,17 3128. 28 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16173128
Hasosah, Mohammed et al. “Knowledge, attitudes, and understanding of probiotics among pediatricians in different regions of Saudi Arabia.” BMC medical education vol. 21,1 68. 21 Jan. 2021, doi:10.1186/s12909-021-02499-w
Valdovinos-García, L R et al. “Probiotic use in clinical practice: Results of a national survey of gastroenterologists and nutritionists.” Revista de gastroenterologia de Mexico vol. 84,3 (2019): 303-309. doi:10.1016/j.rgmx.2018.05.004