By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
Two studies published in the Sept. 6, 2018, issue of Cell have recently gained a great deal of publicity because they cast doubt on the effectiveness of probiotics.i,ii The scientists who conducted the studies stated that their results suggest that probiotics “are almost useless.” One of the studies reported that taking probiotics following a course of antibiotics could hinder an individual’s healthy bacteria from re-establishing themselves.
These studies have some serious flaws and their conclusions should not be generalized to the whole field of probiotics. To date, thousands of studies have been published reporting benefits of probiotics. Consequently, publicly announcing that probiotics “are almost useless” is grossly misleading and a disservice to the general public. Read the International Probiotics association response to this study in their announcement mailing.
I want to publicly express my disappointment that Cell, a highly respected medical journal allowed an article to be published in which the authors have an obvious conflict of interest. In an interview, the lead author stated, “In the future probiotics will need to be tailored to the needs of individual patients. And in that sense just buying probiotics at the supermarket without any tailoring, without any adjustment to the host, at least in part of the population, is quite useless.” It has subsequently been learned that the authors are involved with a company that promotes the “personalized approach” to probiotics that was recommended in their article. It appears that the authors created a study design and selected methods of testing and data extraction that was designed to support the story they wanted to tell.
My basic recommendations for people have not changed. Eat a healthy diet that contains a wide range of fiber-rich foods, and take a probiotic on a regular basis. This is a proven formula for the maintenance of a healthy microbiome, and overall good health.
For more information and a breakdown of why the study is ‘bad science’
Zmora N, et al. Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome Features. Cell.
Sept. 6, 2018;174(6):P1388-1404.
Suez J, et al. Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT. Cell.
Sept. 6, 2018;174(6):P1406-1423.