There isn’t much awareness surrounding probiotics. They are widely available in the supermarkets and consumers appear to be buying them. You might commonly know them as yoghurts or drinks that have added benefits. Probiotics are said to be essential for good health, but a lot of these findings lack evidence. We are then left with more questions than answers. What benefits are there from consuming probiotic products and how can we avoid products with false health claims?
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria that are supposed to have health benefits. Generally, they are described as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria. It is thought that the overall purpose is to return the balance of gut bacteria to its normal state; especially following illness or treatment. So far, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that taking high doses of certain probiotics whilst taking a course of antibiotics can prevent Antibiotic Associated Diarrhoea (AAD). Probiotics are also thought to impede the development of harmful bacteria in the gut that can release toxins and cause major illness. Such action can prevent serious diseases such as C. Difficile which is potentially fatal.
Not All Health Claims Are True
It is difficult for consumers to navigate through the health claims behind probiotics. The main problem is that they work in some cases, however other health claims lack evidence to support them. There are many unsubstantiated claims that probiotics aid certain ailments and bodily functions. For instance, there is no definitive proof that there is any link to eczema treatment. There is also a lack of solid evidence to support the claim that they benefit the immune system. The European Food Safety Authority officially ruled the claim as ‘unproven’ thus such claims can no longer be made.
Food and Not Medicine
There are issues surrounding probiotics which consumers need to be keep in mind when choosing to take them. Probiotics help in the recovery from and prevention of illnesses rather than treating them. As a result, they are categorised as food rather than medicine. This leads to some issues for the consumer because there isn’t much clarity about probiotic products. Because they aren’t classed as medicine, such products aren’t subjected to the same rigorous testing as medicines therefore, consumers aren’t completely clear on the number of good bacteria in a product or if it will have a beneficial effect.
There’s A Lot Out There
The sheer number of probiotics is also an issue. This is because there are various types of probiotic that possibly have different effects on the body. However, there isn’t enough information available to tell consumers about what works the best for each person. It is wrong to assume the beneficial effects from one type of probiotic will be same in a different type of probiotic and that it will work for everyone. Additionally, there is likely to be a substantial difference between the probiotics found in the supermarket and the levels of those that are put through clinical trials.
Although there can be beneficial in certain contexts, there’s no genuine need to ‘re-balance’ gut bacteria if you are already healthy. There won’t be any obvious benefits beyond your present good health. It would simply be a waste of time and money. Consumers must also remember that probiotics can help with disease prevention, but they are not an ultimate cure. In any case of illness, a doctor should always be consulted so that the appropriate medical action can be taken. Remember: probiotics are foods, not medicines.