Probiotics Do Little To Help With Gut Health: Report

Taking probiotics may do very little to help with gut health, according to the findings of a new report.

The American Gastroenterological Association issued new recommendations on June 9, which warned that the supplements are often recommended for a few health conditions, but generally will not improve gut health or digestive conditions.

The clinical guidelines policy does not recommend the use of probiotics for most digestive conditions, indicating that there is not enough evidence to support the use of probiotics in most cases, because the benefit does not outweigh the cost of the supplements.

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Probiotics are living microorganisms of bacteria and yeast naturally found in some foods, like yogurt, but are also manufactured as an over-the-counter supplement. They are generally thought to provide health benefits by increasing gut flora and improving the human micro biome in the gut, or the balance of good bacteria in the gut.

Millions of people around the world take probiotics, which are sold as over-the-counter products including pills, yogurts, gummies, and other products.

An estimated 4 million Americans used some form of probiotic or prebiotic in 2015. Sales in the U.S. are on track to exceed $6 billion this year.

After a review of available studies, the new AGA report indicated there are only three clinical scenarios where current data suggest probiotics may benefit patients.

The AGA recommends probiotics for infants born preterm before 37 weeks and low birthweight infants. Specific probiotics can prevent death and necrotizing enterocolitis. Giving infants probiotics can reduce the number of days to reach full feeds and decrease the duration of hospitalization.

Certain probiotics should also be considered to prevent C. difficile infection in adults and children taking antibiotics. C. diff is a bacterium that causes diarrhea and inflammation in the colon.

Probiotics can also be beneficial for patients who take antibiotics for pouchitis, a complication of ulcerative colitis that has been surgically treated.

The researchers found that probiotics “do not appear to be beneficial” for children in North America who have acute gastroenteritis. Probiotics should not be given routinely to children who present to the emergency room for diarrhea, they determined.

There is no evidence to indicate probiotics should be used to treat C. diff, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or IBS. For these conditions, patients should consider stopping probiotics because of the high cost and lack of evidence to support the benefit, the guidelines indicate.

“Gastroenterologists should suggest the use of probiotics to their patients only if there is clear benefit and should recognize that the effects of probiotics are not species-specific, but strain- and combination-specific,” according to the AGA statement.

However, the report did not take into consideration research conducted outside the United States. Some foreign studies have indicated certain probiotics may be effective in shortening acute diarrhea in children.

The AGA indicates this is the first clinical guideline to focus on probiotics, while also considering the effect of each single-strain or multi-strain formulation instead of grouping them.


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