Is that probiotic you’re taking doing you any good? Spoiler: maybe not. Why? Thanks to a number of factors, it’s very difficult for the average person to distinguish the hype and downright false claims surrounding such products from the facts.
Yes, there are studies showing that a specific strain of bacteria, when consumed in adequate amounts, can help ease or prevent a particular health condition. But, like ‘drug’, ‘probiotic’ is a general term. When your doctor hands you a prescription, it names a medication that is used for a clear-cut purpose. Just as you can’t just grab any old drug off the shelf to, say, relieve sneezing and itchy eyes due to allergies, you can’t purchase whatever probiotic product you find and expect it to prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea.
What’s more, thanks to relatively lax regulations around natural products, a manufacturer can take a micro-organism that’s been proven effective for a particular purpose, and swap it with another, harmless but benign bacteria, without advertising the switch.
However, as I discovered while writing a story about probiotics for Good Times magazine, there are some health professionals who are doing their best to help consumers make informed choices when selecting a probiotic product.
Before you click through to the story, though, please note that, despite how careful I try to be to avoid making errors, I did make a mistake in the piece, due to a misunderstanding on my part. It’s not solely probiotic yoghurts that contain live culture: some others do as well, since not all brands are pasteurized. And it’s an overgeneralization to say that no foods contain probiotics, since they are indeed added to some, such as DanActive, and Yakult. My apologies.
Lastly, one fun fact: I just learned that ‘yogourt’ is the spelling used for the name of this food in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.
Now, go ahead and find out The Facts About Probiotics.
A big thank-you to all of the interviewees who so kindly took the time to speak with me:
- Dr. Thomas Louie, a clinical professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, and a member of the Infectious Diseases Research Group at Calgary Foothills Hospital.
- Dr. John Marshall, a professor of medicine, and director of the division of gastroenterology at McMaster University and a member of the Farncombe Family Digestive Research Institute in Hamilton, Ont.
- Dr. Gregor Reid, distinguished professor at Western University and director of the Canadian R&D Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotics, at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont.
- Dragana Skokovic-Sunjic, a clinical pharmacist with the Hamilton (Ont.) Family Health Team, and lead author of the Clinical Guide to Probiotics Available in Canada.
How to Shape a Healthy Microbiome. (University of Calgary)