There’s good news for anyone who has ever felt shamed by a Probiotics commercial: it turns out probiotics could all be a bunch of nonsense.
Immunologist Eran Elinav of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science conducted a study to determine whether probiotics – those handy things we’re all urged to consume after taking antibiotics to restore the balance of our gut bacteria – are really worth taking. What he found was shocking and also, if we’re honest, pretty gross. The details of the experiment aren’t for those with weak stomachs – but as it turns out, neither are probiotics.
Sampling the microbiome of healthy test subjects directly (rather than through stool samples as previous research has), and feeding them either a probiotic or a placebo, Weizmann’s team discovered that the microbes found in faeces didn’t give an accurate picture of those that colonised the gut. In fact, for the majority, probiotics simply go straight through them – and without the direct testing, there’s no way to tell the difference.
Apparently believing that they weren’t getting their hands dirty enough, the researchers also tested the effects of probiotics on people who had taken a course of antibiotics. It was found that probiotic bacteria actually delayed the restoration of a normal microbiome for up to six months, a hitherto unsuspected negative effect. In a repulsive twist, the most effective way of restoring a biome was found to be a fecal transplant…you know, if you think that’s worth it.
So what does this all mean? It means that for all but a very few, probiotics are probably doing nothing at best, and actually damaging their health at worst. So that should save us all a bit of money and worry.