One study comes out about people experiencing stomach bloating and brain fog and everyone is ready to throw probiotics under the bus. I am not about to hop on this ditch probiotics, they’re bad for you bandwagon for several reasons. Also, just for clarification, when I say probiotics, I mean supplements. Foods that naturally have probiotics are perfectly fine in one’s diet. So, now that that is out of the way lets get to the topic at hand, probiotics.
What Are Probiotics and Why Are They So Popular?
Probiotics are live bacteria that are supposed to help your digestive system. Everyone naturally has their own gut microbiome to help with digestion but, there are times where some people’s microbiomes need some help. This is for example when you take antibiotics. Because the antibiotics may not only kill off the bad bacteria but, also the good bacteria. This is seen with diarrhea caused by antibiotics. There also some other gastrointestinal disorders that may call for probiotics such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Another reason why people have been crazy about probiotics is that there seems to be a connection between the mind and the gut. The reasoning behind this is that we have different chemicals and neurotransmitters that affect our mood created in our gut such as serotonin so, if our gut is not breaking down food properly we cannot get enough nutrients to create our happy neurotransmitters such as serotonin. This can also affect our immune systems because we cannot properly use our food to create the things we need to protect us or keep our body from attacking our own cells like with autoimmune diseases. I know, that’s a lot of weight to put on probiotics. Some people also claim that it helps with weight-loss.
What’s All The News About?
Recently, there was a study that came out denouncing probiotics. It came out in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology in June. Then, a few months later, I guess someone got ahold of that information and all of a sudden, I see all the news outlets on my RSS Feed stating, “Probiotics Bad For You!” or something to that extent. But, they forget to mention some vital information when they cited this scientific study. Yes, it is scientific but, it is only one study. We would need many other studies coming to the same conclusion to really have a solid verdict on probiotic supplements.
Next, the study only included 30 people. Although, 22 of the 30 patients had abdominal bloating, pain, and distension and gas. I would like to see more patients. Studies can have hundreds of patients and even thousands of patients included before verdicts are made. This study is a great start but, it is not an end-all.
Also, none of the news articles I read gave me details that may be useful like what were the demographics of the patients. How does this relate to me? I am a 24-year-old black female so if the majority of the patients are 60-year-old white males like they mostly are then, these results may not be relevant to me. In this study, the mean age was 49-years old but, nothing was said about the rest of the demographics except for disease states that were excluded and included in the study. I will include the study in a link below for those who are curious.
More importantly, I wanted to know what strength and brand of probiotics the patients were using. There are many brands of probiotics and since probiotics are supplements, they are not regulated in the US. That means they will not be scrutinized and taken off the market unless proven harmful. If the manufacturer wanted to, they could but below dose or extra ingredients in the probiotics without our knowledge. You can get certified supplements where they paid to get their product test and they will have the USP sticker on the side or maybe another verifier (there are many organizations that verify the purity of supplements) but many people do not know. This study was observational so that means the experimenters did not get too involved with the patients and their choices. Also, probiotics are measured in as Colony Forming Units (CFU). Some probiotics say 1 billion CFUs while some are at the 100 billion CFU mark. Too much of one thing is not a good thing. The higher the amount of CFU, the more side effects. We see this with prescription and Over-the-Counter drugs all the time.
Subsequently, probiotics may have different strains. Some probiotics have 1 strain of bacteria like Lactobacillus while others have four or even 12 strains. There are so many variables that could have led to the results of brain fog and abdominal pain. Is it a specific strain of the bacteria? Was it the strength of CFU?
Overall, I think that the news outlets just got carried away after one person wanted a story but, I think we need more studies in order to throw away probiotics. I also think that we need to take into consideration the strengths of the probiotics. More is not always better. The strands S.Boulardii and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) has been shown to work in Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea (AAD) and B. infantis 35624 for IBS according to the Use of Probiotics in Gastrointestinal Disorders study by Verna et al. We just need to weigh the risks and the benefits. Maybe not use probiotics for everything? We could even gradually increase the dose of probiotics to our tolerance level if we want to take probiotics like how we do with some medications. Start off with 5 billion CFUs for one month, if that’s okay, increase to 10 billion CFU and so on. We also need to come to a consensus on what is the best effective strength of probiotics so we so not unnecessarily overtake probiotics. Maybe, that’s the pharmacist in me talking but, honestly, I think the probiotics side effects are a result of using too many probiotics. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean you can take a lot. Eating too many carrots turn you orange and Arsenic is natural so… Just a thought.
Thanks for listening to me rant,
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Verna EC, Lucak S. Use of probiotics in gastrointestinal disorders: what to recommend? Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 2010;3(5):307-319. doi:10.1177/1756283X10373814. Accessed October 2018.
- Satish S. C. Rao MD, Ph.D., FRCP (LON), Abdul Rehman MD, Siegfried Yu MD & Nicole Martinez de Andino ARNP. Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis. Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology. Vol 9. 162. June 2018. Accessed October 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41424-018-0030-7.
*Title updated from The Problem with Bashing Probiotics on 10/30/2018.