About Probiotics and Their Benefits
Probiotics are the live microorganisms present in some foods and supplements, whose function resemble beneficial microbes, which are naturally present in the human body.(1) This is why probiotics are popularly known as the good bacteria or the friendly bacteria or the beneficial bacteria. There are many probiotic products, such as yogurt available for ages;(2) however, there has been an increasing demand for commercially produced probiotic food items and probiotic supplements.(3)
Many of these probiotic products also have prebiotics in them or certain ingredients, which encourage the growth of beneficial microbes. The synbiotics have components of both the probiotics and prebiotics.
What Does the Research Say on Probiotic Safety?
According to studies, there has been very little information regarding the safety of the probiotic products.(4) According to the studies, about one-third of the trials revealed no information on harmful effects or side effects of the probiotics. Only about 2% of the research had information about the main safety characteristics of the probiotics.
Majority of the studies in the review did not reveal the methodology of how the researchers indentified the serious or adverse events of probiotics. Other than this, vast majority also did not explain the ways that were employed for collecting the data with regards to the harmful effects of these products.
According to the study, the unanimous and strong belief about prebiotics and probiotics is that they are safe; however, the adverse events which can occur from their usage are not clearly understood. According to them, researchers should describe the severity and incidence of all the adverse events linked with prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics; especially when they are used by high-risk patients or recommended to be used for treating any severe illness.
Insufficient Safety Data Results in Funding Concerns
According to this systematic review, most of the published studies have not adequately gauged the safety of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics. The fear is it could cause something which no one has thought of and in the absence of the information on its safety; FDA is hesitant to permit clinical trials funded by the government. So, this leads to the conclusion that the majority of the research regarding probiotics is funded by manufacturers of probiotic products or is done overseas.
When this kind of research is done overseas, then it causes concerns and questions as to the understanding of the results by the American patients. When manufacturers are funding the research then the credibility of the results gets questioned, as the manufacturers have their own interest in the results being in favor of their products to be effective and safe from any harm.
It is difficult to get FDA’s approval by the American researchers without any connection to the manufacturers and who want to conduct clinical trials and need government funding to carry out the type of studies which the consumers need to understand which probiotics are beneficial or effective for their specific problem.
This results in barriers to what can be a ground breaking research regarding the effectiveness of the probiotic use in treating certain health problems.
Like Everything, Probiotics Also Have Their Risks and Benefits
There are some people for whom certain doses and strains of probiotics are beneficial. Some of which is prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and prevention of allergies in children.(5, 6) Other than this, people take probiotics for other conditions also; however, there is very less evidence to support this. Even though there is no clear proof that probiotics can relieve certain conditions and improve overall health, still it is considered safe to take them.
Despite all this, there have been reports of infections occurring as a result of the organisms present in the probiotic products and in some patients, these infections have been quite severe. The explanation to these infections often can be disruption in the intestinal lining or an impaired immune system. For this reason, it is advised to refrain from taking probiotics if one is suffering from a weak immune system or is suffering from a condition which causes disruption of the intestinal tract.
Probiotics are also not advised if one has intravenous catheter, as it creates a pathway for microbes from the probiotic products to gain access to the bloodstream and cause infections.
Always consult your doctor before starting on probiotic products, as they will recommend you the appropriate dose and suitable strain of probiotics, which have been known to be effective for treating certain symptoms or conditions.
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