The Observer - - WEEKEND WELLBEING - – www.bodyand­

It’s been a cou­ple of years since pro­bi­otics ex­ploded on to the health scene, and now you can’t walk down the sup­ple­ment aisle of a chemist with­out see­ing them dom­i­nat­ing the shelves. Pro­bi­otics for liver health, for IBS, pro­bi­otics spe­cific to women or ba­bies.

They come in food or in tablet form and some claim to be the cure for all that ails you. Stud­ies show var­i­ous ben­e­fits – from im­prove­ment of auto-im­mune is­sues such as Crohn’s dis­ease and from eczema, thrush and de­pres­sion – but some ex­perts are scep­ti­cal.

Just as there are bac­te­ria that cause skin in­fec­tions or make ex­pired milk smell hor­ri­ble, there are dif­fer­ent strains of pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria and they do dif­fer­ent things.

Some claim to re­store the nat­u­ral bal­ance of gut bac­te­ria af­ter an ill­ness or an­tibi­otics.

Some claim to ward off ill­nesses by sup­port­ing the im­mune sys­tem.

“Ul­ti­mately, they’re thought to help re­store the nat­u­ral bal­ance of bac­te­ria in your gut,” nu­tri­tion­ist Rhi­an­non Lam­bert told The In­de­pen­dent.

“Pro­bi­otics may be help­ful for some, es­pe­cially fol­low­ing an ill­ness or treat­ment, but there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence to sup­port them for the mul­ti­tude of sup­posed ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing treat­ing eczema and stress.”

Two re­cent stud­ies pub­lished in the jour­nal Cell looked at how ef­fec­tively pro­bi­otics bought over the counter pop­u­lated a healthy gut and how well they helped a per­son’s gut re­cover af­ter an­tibi­otics.

The first study showed peo­ple fell into two camps.

There were re­sisters, whose gut got no ben­e­fit from them, and per­sis­ters, who had some changes in their gut biome.

The sec­ond study split sub­jects into three cat­e­gories: those who took noth­ing, those who took pro­bi­otics and those who were given a trans­plant of their own healthy gut bac­te­ria.

The pro­bi­otics ef­fi­ciently colonised in the sec­ond group, but stopped the orig­i­nal mi­cro­biome from re­turn­ing to its healthy state.

“This was worse than not do­ing any­thing,” said study co-author Pro­fes­sor Eran Eli­nav.

The peo­ple who were given sam­ples of their own gut bac­te­ria went back to a nor­mal mi­cro­biome within days.

So per­haps the truth about pro­bi­otics is that one size doesn’t fit all.

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