The Dark Side of Probiotics No One Is Talking About

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From top-notch physicians to celebrity nutritionists, health experts far and wide claim that probiotics are the must-take supplement of the moment. And with so many people in the medical field promoting the gut-health benefits of probiotics, we can’t help but believe in them, which is why the results of a new probiotic-focused study come as such a surprise. 

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Recent findings have revealed that studies done on probiotics lack a major component of research on the supplement, putting people in danger of potential health risks. Scientists from a French research institute, who conducted the research, examined 384 studies of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics, and ultimately found that many clinical trials on the subject don't assess the safety of these supplements, and instead, simply assume they’re harmless to ingest, NBC News reports. “One-third of the trials gave no information on harms, and only 2 percent adequately reported key safety components,” the study stated. “We cannot broadly conclude that these interventions are safe without reporting safety data.”

While probiotics are endorsed as a way to improve gut health by balancing the “good” bacteria found in the digestive system, that’s not always the case. According to this new research—published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine—the lack in safety parameters within studies examining probiotics should raise serious doubts about their overall safety when consumed.

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One of the few doctors who has thoroughly researched probiotics, Shira Doron, MD of Tufts University Medical Center agrees that it's a major problem that many studies are incomplete in their assessment of the supplement: “Any well-designed clinical trial should include both the risks and benefits of a therapy," Dr. Doron says in an interview. "Consumers spending their hard-earned money on probiotics in the hopes of improving their health deserve to know not only whether that probiotic was better than placebo, or another comparator, for a given condition or symptom, but whether study subjects in the group taking the probiotic were more likely to have side effects or other adverse events."

Sadly, there's also potential health risks for certain sets of people who ingest probiotics, specifically those with poor immune systems. "There have been reports of patients taking probiotics and developing infections caused by the organism contained in the supplement," explains Dr. Doron. "In most cases, the patient has a risk factor to explain this development, such as an impaired immune system or disruption of their intestinal tract."

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Considering how commonplace these supplements have become among households, it’s vital for scientists to continue reviewing their pros and cons before doctors continue to promote them. The study’s authors even go as far as to say that an “international and collective effort is urgently needed” to combat this issue, which is certainly a fair assessment considering the risks. However, according to Dr. Doron, these findings don't necessitate a probiotic purge from your medicine cabinet just yet. "If you are generally healthy with a functioning immune system and intestinal tract, you can consider probiotics to be safe," she affirms. So, keep your probiotics for now, but certainly proceed with caution.  

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