Probiotics are expensive and do not help ease digestive conditions, say new guidelines
More than 3.9 million American adults have used some form of probiotics to improve health, including digestive condition
For long, probiotics have been hailed for their health benefits. However, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) has said it had found no evidence that justifies their use for digestive disorders.
More than 3.9 million American adults have used some form of probiotics to improve health, including digestive conditions. "For the majority of the digestive diseases we studied, currently, there is not enough evidence to recommend using probiotics," Dr Geoffrey Preidis, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Texas Medical Center and spokesperson for the AGA, told CNN. The researchers came up with recommendations after reviewing previous studies on the topic.
People suffering from digestive conditions should consider discontinuing using probiotics to treat digestive conditions such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, according to the guidelines. "The supplements can be costly, and there isn't enough evidence to prove a benefit or confirm a lack of harm. Talk with your doctor," Grace L Su from the University of Michigan said in a statement. She chaired the panel that formulated the guidelines, which are published in Gastroenterology, AGA's official journal.
Additionally, doctors should not prescribe these products to children visiting the emergency room with diarrhea while those suffering from infectious gastroenteritis should steer clear of these supplements.
Probiotics may help treat certain conditions
Experts state that a few probiotics may protect against Clostridium difficile — a bacterium that causes intestinal infection -- in adults and children taking antibiotics. It could also help manage pouchitis, a complication resulting from a surgery that corrects ulcerative colitis. Some of these supplements could also protect preterm babies and infants who weigh less than 2500 g.
"While our guideline does highlight a few use cases for probiotics, it, more importantly, underscores that the public's assumptions about the benefits of probiotics are not well-founded, and there is also a major variation in results based on the formulation of the probiotic product," Su added. Additionally, the AGA said that it would refine its guidelines once well-designed clinical trials evaluating probiotics for clinical conditions becomes available.
Market not regulated
Probiotic supplements contain microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts, which are also present in fermented food like yogurt or some types of cheese. They are also believed to help improve a range of health conditions, from heart health to mental health.
It is not the first time experts have expressed caution over the use of probiotics. They are mostly sold as supplements and are hence not tested for safety and efficacy, unlike drugs. "Manufacturers are responsible for making sure they're safe before they're marketed and that any claims made on the label are true. But there's no guarantee that the types of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you're taking them for," Harvard Medical School said in a blog post. Besides, these products may harm people with weak immune systems, according to scientists.
Experts also said that not all of the microbial strains used in probiotics are helpful. Gastroenterologists should consider prescribing them to their patients only if they see a clear benefit, the AGA said.