December 01, 2020

Uses of probiotic supplements lack scientific support

You may have seen probiotics marketed as a solution to digestive problems such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and more.

But according to new guidelines from the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), there isn't enough evidence to recommend probiotics for multiple gastrointestinal problems. More research is needed to find the best probiotic strains and doses, show their effectiveness, and ensure they are safe.

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." Probiotics are often yeast or "good" bacteria that come in the form of supplements or food.

The AGA guidelines said that prior probiotic research has been inconsistent, looked at different strains and doses of probiotics, and reported varied outcomes.

For gut conditions such as treating Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, the AGA said it couldn't make recommendations due to lack of quality evidence, and thus, probiotics should only be used within research studies. There were some conditions where the AGA conditionally recommended certain strains of probiotics as a possible therapy option. These include preventing C. diff in those taking antibiotics and preventing or managing pouchitis — a complication of certain intestinal surgeries.

In addition to their unproven efficacy, the cost of probiotic supplements can add up. However, Mayo Clinic experts point out that the AGA guidelines did not look at fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, which may have potentially beneficial bacteria. In addition, they say that several studies have found a high-fiber,...