Are Probiotics Effective in Changing the Microbiome?

Two recent papers in Cell provide additional questions about the effectiveness of probiotics.

Full Studies:

The coverage of these studies in the media has created some controversy; enough so that the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics disseminated a very critical review:

CLINICAL EVIDENCE AND NOT MICROBIOTA OUTCOMES DRIVE VALUE OF PROBIOTICS

Here is a small excerpt:

Two recent papers have generated much adverse publicity for the probiotic field. Headlines driven by sensationalism, not data, claim “Probiotics labelled ‘quite useless’” (BBC) and “Probiotics ‘not as beneficial for gut health as previously thought’” (The Guardian). The quotes are from author Eran Elinav, who generalizes the study findings to all ‘probiotics’ as a class – a generalization that ignores that specific probiotic are meant for specific purposes…

The scope of these papers is limited to microbiome data; no clinical endpoints are assessed. Without clinical evidence, it is not possible to conclude about the tested probiotic’s usefulness, and it is certainly not possible to conclude about probiotic usefulness in general…. The authors discount the existing body of evidence for probiotic health benefits, including Level 1 placebo-controlled, randomized trials. Cochrane reviews (the gold standard used by physicians and public health policy makers) of the totality of evidence show that specific probiotics can prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD) and C. difficile diarrhea. This evidence has been translated into evidence-based recommendations for probiotics issued by medical groups. Regardless of an effect on the microbiota, these are established, evidence-based benefits of probiotics.

My take: This controversy points to the problem that probiotics are often considered more effective than the science merits.  While there are some conditions that may respond to probiotics, it should be understood that each probiotic needs to be looked at for each specific clinical scenario.

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