Every time scientists and health specialists discover the benefits of some food, diet, or type of exercises, all sorts of stories pop up as a result. Some of them are true works of fiction (one’s creativity is appreciated but not when it comes to products that directly affect one’s health) whereas others talk about the real effects of the product in question. Thus, myths start to make the rounds and people or future consumers get confused. Probiotics make no exception when it comes to being erroneously associated with certain health benefits. In today’s post, we’ll try to put together some of these facts and myths about probiotics.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms that live in our body, most of them being located in our gastrointestinal tract. The name itself underlines their importance to our health. They are those tiny lifeforms that support life, hence the name “probiotics” which means pro-life. Various studies have concluded that the use of probiotics helps one’s digestive health and boosts one’s immunity. Unfortunately, the probiotics our body needs in order to function properly reach low levels at times. When such things happen, various health issues occur.
Probiotics and marketing
Since we live in a society that seeks to get profit from anything if possible, it’s no wonder that the market is full of all sorts of wonder products that promise a lot yet bring little. There are lots of probiotic supplements online and in stores that have a rich health benefits list attached to them, and that makes it only more difficult to make a decision about whether to buy and use these products or not. Not to mention the fact that manufacturers make general health claims when advertising their products. For instance, food makers often say about their products that they improve digestive health. The way they do that precisely is not specified or detailed, though.
Probiotics and myths
Before believing all the things that populate the web, you might want to consider the following information on myths and facts about probiotics.
Myth: there’s no difference between probiotic supplements.
Fact: There’s this generally accepted idea that all probiotic supplements are the same. According to health experts like Dr. Patricia Hibberd, a professor of pediatrics and chief of global health at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, this is one of the most common misconceptions related to probiotics. Certain probiotic supplements have a single strain of bacteria whereas others combine various strains of microorganisms. Moreover, microbe concentrations vary from one product to another.
Myth: Probiotics can replace medication.
Fact: Probiotics have been frequently studied in conjunction with drugs and not as a substitute for them. Hibberd says that probiotics should be used in addition to an existing treatment program when talking about certain health conditions or preventively in order to avoid certain health issues or medications in the future.
Myth: Most yogurts contain probiotics.
Fact: If it’s yogurt, it doesn’t mean it is surely a source of probiotics. Many yogurts contain probiotics indeed but there’s a long way between what the labels say and what you get. There are yogurts that include live and active cultures and it is true that many such foods use naturally occurring bacteria in order to begin fermentation but the pasteurization process will kill most of these living microorganisms.
If the pasteurization process was not applied and the fermented food is raw, the product contains bacteria but there is not enough information about all the organisms used to produce fermented food, and therefore it is now impossible to know precisely all of their health benefits.
Myth: Probiotics might prevent cold.
Fact: There’s little information regarding the benefits of probiotics in keeping colds at bay. Hibberd says that “the evidence isn’t really there yet” and researchers need to carry out further studies in order to find out exactly how probiotics boost one’s immune system and thus help in keeping various health issues away.
Myth: Labels on probiotic supplements provide accurate bacteria information.
Fact: Most food labels don’t indicate the precise number of bacteria contained in the food. They usually say that the product includes live bacteria or cultures. Generally, only high-quality supplements from well-known and appreciated manufacturers indicate an accurate microbe count as well as information on the organisms’ species, genus, and strain.
Still, such information might indicate the number of bacteria at the time of manufacture, which means that, depending on the storage conditions, cultures used, and other such factors, the food product might include only a small part of the initial bacteria when it gets into your system.
And then there are probiotic supplements that don’t even contain the live organisms they say they do according to a study carried out in 2013 by ConsumerLab.com, an independent testing service. The study showed that 5 of 19 probiotic supplements contained fewer microorganisms than advertised, conveying 16 to 56 percent of the bacteria listed on their labels.
Myth: All probiotics function in the same way.
Fact: In order to identify probiotics, three criteria are used: genus, (e.g., Lactobacillus), species (e.g., acidophilus) and strain (e.g., CL1285). There are certain strains that are helpful in certain health condition but have no benefit in the case of other health issues.
For instance, while a probiotic containing Bifidobacterium infantis (35624) has appeared to give symptomatic alleviation to individuals experiencing gut disorder, a probiotic containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG) has been shown to help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
Although hundreds of studies regarding the health benefits of probiotics have been carried out and have shown that different species of bacteria have different health benefits, more research is needed before knowing precisely how probiotics work, what strain is needed to treat or prevent a certain condition, what dosage to be taken, for how long and the entire list of health benefits they trigger, just to name a few.
This means that utmost attention is to be paid when buying probiotic supplements and taking such products. Make sure you always see a doctor whenever you have some health problem and use only the products your health expert prescribes you.