Probiotics are all the buzz these days as gut health is rapidly becoming one of the most widely discussed topics when it comes to optimal health. Nearly the entire immune system is located in the gut making gut health foundational in achieving optimal health. It seems as though probiotics are popping up everywhere from beverages to cereals as this topic gains popularity and more people look towards improving the health of their gut.
However, two recent studies published in Cell have people questioning the effectiveness of probiotics. In one study, researchers studied the changes in the microbiome of a group of people over the course of one month that were given an 11-strain probiotic combination or a placebo. In the second study, researchers, studied the effects of the same 11-strain probiotic after antibiotic use.
According to researchers, the results indicated that probiotics were not very effective in recolonizing the gut microbiome and that perhaps a more tailored probiotic would be more effective rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
The idea of tailored probiotics is not only fascinating and exciting but could also be a breakthrough in science and medicine as we are beginning to understand the uniqueness and diversity among various microbiomes. Having a more specialized probiotic that is unique to one’s biochemical individuality would be a tremendous advancement in medicine.
However, with that being said, there are a few flaws within the recent research and these studies do not accurately reflect the true value of probiotics.
For one, the study sample size is too small to make any type of meaningful conclusions. The study samples were based off 15 and 21 volunteers and were monitored for one month or less, not nearly enough people or time to conclude the effectiveness of probiotics.
In addition, researchers used a combination of 11-strains of bacteria, not a formulated probiotic, which can affect the results. In fact, Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario who did not participate in the studies, commented that, “The product they tested is not a probiotic. Unless it has been proven in human studies to confer a health benefit, it is simply a list of bacterial species that likely sound as if they could be probiotic,” He also noted that, “following the subjects over time would have made this small study more insightful.”
Gut health is a complex system and new research has allowed us to gain a better perspective of the ways in which the gut functions. In fact, the health of the gut is not just based on bacteria (probiotics), but the healthy balance and combination of bacteria and fungi. Research also identifies that an overgrowth of bad bacteria and fungi can team up and create a biofilm, or protective barrier, that inhibits the proliferation of beneficial bacteria. Essentially, probiotic supplementation is useless and may have very little effect if biofilms are present. Furthermore, it is equally as important to ensure the probiotic is sustainably sourced from a reputable origin and has been studied for human health benefits.
While more research must be conducted in order to fully understand the complexity of the gut, the studies supporting the health benefits of probiotics far outweighs the negative. While nearly all gut health research has helped shed insight into the inner-workings of the microbiome, these two recent probiotic studies fail to take into consideration many critical components of gut health and probiotics in particular. I continue to believe probiotics are an essential component in achieving optimal gut health.