Probiotics Industry Kicked in the Gut: New Study Says Healthy People Don't Need Them

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The probiotics category is on fire right now—it's a $31 billion industry booming with supplements, yogurts positioned to ease digestive troubles, and supermarket cases full of fizzy kombucha drinks. Building a healthy microbiome with beneficial gut bacteria has never been such a hot-button food issue. And it may also be a complete waste of your money, too, finds a new study.

According to researchers out of the University of Copenhagen, there’s “no evidence” that probiotics are of benefit to already healthy people. While they can assist in healing the gut, say, after a round of antibiotics, or a bout of food poisoning--both of which can throw off the microbiome's balance of friendly bacteria--if you’re healthy, the researchers found adding probiotics to your diet regularly demonstrated little benefit.

The study authors looked at seven clinical trials on probiotics. “Of the seven original trials,” reports the Huffington Post, “only one reported significantly greater changes in bacterial make up after probiotics.”

“While there is some evidence from previous reviews that probiotic interventions may benefit those with disease-associated imbalances of the gut microbiota,” said Oluf Pedersen, professor at the University of Copenhagen and senior author of the paper, “there is little evidence of an effect in healthy individuals.”

And while the researchers say more study into the issue is needed, there’s a good chance that if you’re regularly dousing your otherwise healthy gut with “friendly” microbes, either from supplements or fermented foods (that are often higher dollar items) it could be money better spent elsewhere.

“To explore the potential of probiotics to contribute to disease prevention in healthy people there is a major need for much larger, carefully designed and carefully conducted clinical trials,” said Pederen.

The study did not look at the gains (or lack of) in consuming prebiotics, foods that feed the friendly gut bacteria so they can do what they do best, that is, fight off threats from harmful bacteria and keep the immune system strong.

The study was published in the journal Genome Medicine.

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Woman with yogurt image via Shutterstock

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