By Serena Gordon
WEDNESDAY, January 15, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Many people turn to the Internet with health questions, but how reliable is the information they find? When it comes to probiotics, a new study recommends caution.
The research found that of 150 websites that conducted a probiotic search, most were commercial sites, hoping to sell a product. Others were news sites or health portals (which provided links to other sites). Many of these sites mentioned the potential benefits of probiotics, although not all had scientific evidence to support those claims. And only 1 in 4 websites mentioned the possible side effects of taking probiotics.
"This study shows that a series of online claims about the health benefits of probiotics are not supported by scientific evidence," said study co-author Dr. Michel Goldman, professor of immunology at the Free University of Bruxelles in Belgium.
Probiotics are "good" bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods and in dietary supplements, according to the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. UU. Some of these bacteria are also found naturally in the human body. They can help digest food, fight germs that can cause disease or produce vitamins.
"Probiotics can clearly be useful in the management of infectious diarrhea, in pregnant women with gestational diabetes and as a complement to desensitization therapy to food allergies," Goldman said. He added that probiotics could also be useful for eczema of the skin condition and for some urinary or genital infections in women.
But his team saw some broad statements online about the benefits of probiotics, such as being beneficial in the treatment of cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
For the study, Goldman and his colleagues examined the first 150 pages submitted by Google in response to a search for "probiotics." They reviewed the information on these pages to verify their reliability and searched in a large database of clinical trials for evidence to support these claims.
A positive point was that Google seems to prioritize more reliable sources of information on commercial websites.
Even so, consumers should be careful about the health information they get online.
"Consumers should see if there is scientific information published in peer-reviewed medical journals that support claims of over-the-counter probiotics and health products that are not regulated as rigorously as prescription drugs. They should discuss with their doctors the benefits that they can expect from probiotics, "Goldman said.
Dr. Melinda Ring, executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, said the findings did not surprise her.
"This is a big problem in the area of natural products and dietary supplements. There is a preponderance of less reliable information on sales and commercial sources," said Ring, who was not part of the research.
"People really need to see the claims made by websites. Do they promise unrealistic cures? Are they referring to scientific data?" she said.
An area where probiotics can be useful is to maintain the body's natural balance of beneficial bacteria: the intestinal microbiome. "We know that the human microbiome is incredibly important for our health and disease development, but we are in the infancy of understanding how to manipulate the microbiome," Ring said.
If you are interested in improving your gut's microbiome, the first place to start is to improve your diet, because what you eat is also food for your microbiome, Ring said. Focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Several foods have probiotics, such as yogurt and fermented foods. But sometimes probiotics that occur naturally in food can be destroyed through processing and preservation. Ring recommends searching for "live cultures" in the package.
If you take probiotic supplements, he suggested continuing with reputable brands and perhaps taking more than one product to make sure you get a variety of probiotics.
Andrea Wong is senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Responsible Nutrition Council (CRN), which represents the supplement industry. She said research shows that probiotics are safe and have health benefits.
"When it comes to reliable information about probiotics and other dietary supplements, doctors and other health professionals are the most reliable sources. CRN encourages consumers to be smart shoppers and do their due diligence when looking for information on dietary supplements." said Wong.
The findings were published on January 15 in Frontiers in medicine.