IPA challenges article's assertion that science behind probiotics is 'shaky'

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

IPA challenges article's assertion that science behind probiotics is 'shaky'

Related tags Probiotics Common cold Gut flora

A recent online article that labeled the science backing probiotics as “shaky” was criticized by the International Proibiotics Association as lacking context and a basic understanding of the industry and the evidence behind it.

Writing for the health news site Stat News, which was launched in November 2015 by John Henry, the billionaire owner of the Boston Globe​ newspaper, reporter Megan Scudellari notes that probiotics are marketed as supporting digestive health and also are “touted as potential treatments for conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to eczema to tooth decay.” Scudellari claimed that scientific evidence does not necessarily back up those claims​. She also says that probiotic proponents have claimed the organisms can address obesity, autism, diabetes or high cholesterol, or even flu or common cold, but have no evidence to prove these claims are true.

Tarring all science with same brush

We don’t say that probiotics will cure everything under the sun.  And there are always cases where clinical trials are not successful, but you can’t then just say that all the science is shaky,” ​George Paraskevakos, IPA executive director told NutraIngredients-USA. 

In a statement from IPA, the organization questioned the thoroughness of Scudellari’s research that led up to the writing of the article. It’s easy enough to find superficial negative press reports of recent studies, but harder to delve into the research itself to find out what’s really going on.

“She mentions that there is no indication for probiotics to treat obesity, autism, diabetes or high cholesterol, or even flu or common cold. If Ms Scudellari would have done her homework, or would have consulted people who did their homework, she could have known that there are meta-analyses on these and other topics and the world of probiotics is not as black as she suggests, nor as white as she insists the industry suggests,’ the IPA statement said.

The statement noted that there is a range of research into the ingredients, from the less convincing to the strongly supportive.  For amelioration of type 2 diabetes and for supporting weight management the research sits at a lower rung. But for control of high cholesterol, the data suggests a benefit, and there is strong evidence for probiotics in the realm of lessing the duration and severity of colds, the statement said.

“Ms Scudellari also seems to have difficulties in grasping the difference between prevention and risk reduction; the former means it is unlikely to happen while the latter means it may happen but the chances are reduced. Probiotics will reduce the risk and will not prevent. Thus, unsuccessful studies can happen, for various reasons,”​ the statement said.

‘Unregulated’ charge

Paraskevakos also said that Scudellari echoed the same tired, unfounded allegations that are rife elsewhere in the mainstream media, namely that being supplements, probiotics are essentially unregulated and that FDA has little to no oversight of them unless they have been shown to harm people, this despite the regulation of DSHEA itself and the GMP rules in Part 111. Also, she quotes pediatric gastroenterologist Dr Alessio Fasano about the ‘risks’ posed by an overconsumption of probiotics.

“This statement demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of probiotics. First, as probiotics do not colonize the intestine, any change they induce will disappear as soon as one ceases consumption. Furthermore, in most cases, poor nutritional habits are a bigger and known risk to the composition and activity of the intestinal microbiota than the hypothetical risk probiotics may pose,” ​the IPA statement says.

“Like any other industry there might be some bad players but among our membership we make sure they are following the regs.  She obviously didn’t investigate the sector because she makes some pretty bold and all encompassing statements that are inaccurate. As the global voice of the industry we are not going to stand for being discredited,” ​Paraskevakos said.

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