How good are pro­bio­tics for your health?

Tout ce qu’il faut sa­voir sur les pro­bio­tiques.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito | Sommaire - OLIVIA PETTER

Les pro­bio­tiques, mi­cro-or­ga­nismes vi­vants que l’on achète sous forme de yaourts ou de com­plé­ments ali­men­taires pour leurs ef­fets bé­né­fiques sur notre corps, re­pré­sentent au­jourd’hui un mar­ché en plein es­sor pour les in­dus­tries agroa­li­men­taire et phar­ma­ceu­tique. Ré­pu­tés, entre autres, pour leur ac­tion po­si­tive sur l’in­tes­tin, ils sont sou­vent dé­si­gnés comme les meilleurs al­liés de notre or­ga­nisme. Mais qu’en est-il vrai­ment ?

Pro­bio­tics were once the wun­der­kind of the sup­ple­ment world, said to im­prove gut health, treat skin condi­tions and as­suage ir­ri­table bo­wel syn­drome (IBS) symp­toms. Now, ex­perts are ur­ging us to re­con­si­der the myths we've been sold by dewy-skin­ned in­fluen­cers and glos­sy ad cam­pai­gns, poin­ting out the po­ten­tial­ly harm­ful ef­fects of consu­ming live bac­te­ria.

2. In a recent ar­ticle pu­bli­shed in the jour­nal JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Me­di­cal School Pie­ter Co­hen argues that pro­bio­tics might cause in­fec­tions among those with poor-func­tio­ning im­mune sys­tems. He al­so points out that ma­ny of the tou­ted be­ne­fits are not suf­fi­cient­ly sup­por­ted by scien­ti­fic stu­dies, cas­ting doubt over their va­li­di­ty. Read on for eve­ry­thing you need to know about pro­bio­tics.

WHAT ARE PRO­BIO­TICS?

3. Found na­tu­ral­ly in foods such as yog­hurt, cheese, kim­chi and sauer­kraut, pro­bio­tics are de­fi­ned by the World Health Or­ga­ni­sa­tion as “live mi­croor­ga­nisms which, when ad­mi­nis­te­red in ade­quate amounts, confer a health be­ne­fit on the host”. They are most com­mon­ly ta­ken in cap­sule form as food sup­ple­ments and are thought to res­tore the na­tu­ral balance of bac­te­ria in the gut af­ter per­iods of ill­ness, when ta­king a course of an­ti­bio­tics might’ve ir­ri­ta­ted the sto­mach and in­tes­tines.

4. There are dif­ferent types of bac­te­ria which are clas­si­fied as pro­bio­tics, these in­clude lac­to­ba­cil­lus, bi­fi­do­bac­te­rium and sac­cha­ro­myces bou­lar­dii.

WHAT ARE THE BE­NE­FITS?

5. Gi­ven that pro­bio­tics have been scien­ti­fi­cal­ly shown to im­prove gut health, they may help people with gas­troin­tes­ti­nal di­sor­ders, such as IBS and consti­pa­tion. The NHS claims that pro­bio­tics may al­so help re­duce bloa­ting and fla­tu­lence in IBS suf­fe­rers. Some stu­dies have clai­med that pro­bio­tics can help combat epi­sodes of diar­rhoea, al­though there is in­suf­fi­cient evi­dence to sup­port this claim.

6. Die­ti­cian Ni­cho­la Lud­lam-Raine tells The Independent that pro­bio­tics may al­so help

ward off ill­nesses du­ring win­ter by sup­por­ting the im­mune sys­tem. Ho­we­ver, the Eu­ro­pean Food Sa­fe­ty Au­tho­ri­ty has ru­led that pro­bio­tic yog­hurts can­not use this claim in their mar­ke­ting due to a lack of evi­dence. “Ul­ti­ma­te­ly, they're thought to help res­tore the na­tu­ral balance of bac­te­ria in your gut,” adds Har­ley Street nu­tri­tio­nist Rhian­non Lam­bert.

7. “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,” she tells The Independent, poin­ting out that dif­ferent types of pro­bio­tics may have dif­ferent be­ne­fits. “Im­por­tant­ly, there's li­ke­ly to be a si­gni­fi­cant dif­fe­rence bet­ween phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal-grade pro­bio­tics that show pro­mise in cli­ni­cal trials and that found in drinks, yog­hurts and sup­ple­ments in shops,” Lam­bert adds.

8. Other be­ne­fits of pro­bio­tics, as lis­ted by the NHS, in­clude al­le­via­ting symp­toms of lac­tose in­to­le­rance, trea­ting pou­chi­tis and re­du­cing the li­ke­li­hood of pre­ma­ture ba­bies de­ve­lo­ping a po­ten­tial­ly fa­tal condi­tion known as ne­cro­ti­sing en­te­ro­co­li­tis.

WHO SHOULD TAKE THEM?

9. While the be­ne­fits have been contes­ted, there’s lit­tle evi­dence to prove un­plea­sant side ef­fects for people with heal­thy im­mune sys­tems, ma­king them safe to take for most people. Ni­cho­la Lud­lam-Raine sug­gests that people trial a pro­bio­tic drink or ta­blet if they are ever ta­king an­ti­bio­tics, as they kill both the good and bad bac­te­ria in our guts. “Al­though they must be ta­ken at se­pa­rate times of the day,” she notes.

WHAT ARE THE PO­TEN­TIAL RISKS?

10. Be­cause pro­bio­tics are clas­si­fied as a food as op­po­sed to a medicine, they don’t un­der­go the same re­gu­la­to­ry pro­cesses, mea­ning you can ne­ver be 100 per cent sure that the sup­ple­ment you’re ta­king contains suf­fi­cient amounts of bac­te­ria in or­der to have an ef­fect. The NHS al­so states that some pro­bio­tic pro­ducts may not even contain the bac­te­ria sta­ted on the food la­bel.

WHAT ARE THE UNSUPPORTED CLAIMS?

11. Pro­bio­tics have been lin­ked to trea­ting a num­ber of health condi­tions, but the NHS states that ma­ny of these are un­foun­ded. Ill­nesses said to be trea­table via pro­bio­tics in­clude Crohn’s di­sease, ec­ze­ma, vul­vo­va­gi­nal can­di­dia­sis and pneu­mo­nia, but the stu­dies ma­king these claims have been said to ei­ther be too small or too low in qua­li­ty to war­rant their va­li­di­ty.

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