Be wary of online probiotic health-benefit claims

January 15, 2020

The public should be wary of searching for probiotic information online as most webpages originate from unreliable sources and the health-benefit claims are often not supported by robust scientific evidence.

A new study, published in Frontiers in Medicine, cautions that while Google is adept at sorting the most reliable websites to the top of the list, the majority of websites providing information on probiotics are from commercial sources.

"Most webpages with information on probiotics are from commercial sources or news outlets but these provide the least complete information, in terms of not discussing potential side effects or regulatory issues," reports author Professor Pietro Ghezzi, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK.

"We also find many websites allude to benefits of probiotics in diseases for which there is not much high-level scientific evidence, other than in mice."

Probiotics are live organisms that, if research holds its promise, could be beneficial to health. There is a large US market for probiotics but less so in the EU, likely due to stricter regulation for health claims. Nevertheless, the market for probiotics continuously expands with the globalization of online sales.

Should we believe the hype?

Concerned that the public has unrealistic expectations about the beneficial effects of probiotics (bolstered by online claims and hype in the news), Ghezzi and his colleagues decided to assess the information that the public were exposed to when searching online.

"We assessed the first 150 webpages brought up by a Google search for "probiotics", recorded where they originated from and the diseases they mentioned. The scientific evidence for health benefits of probiotics against these diseases were then examined for scientific rigor," explains co-author Michel Goldman, a Professor at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Innovation in healthcare, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium.

The researchers used the Cochrane library - a database of clinical trials and meta-analyses of evidence-based medicine - to assess the strength of scientific evidence found online.

Goldman adds, "We also looked at how Google ranked these websites, as often the public will not go past the first ten results - these will therefore have a higher visibility and impact."

Beware of unreliable sources

News-outlets and commercial sources made up the majority of the 150 webpages and the analysis showed these were the least reliable, often not mentioning the side effects on immunocompromised individuals nor any regulatory issues. In addition, the findings of experiments on mice were used to make claims about probiotic benefits against disease in humans.

But it's not all bad news. Ghezzi explains that Google has developed very stringent criteria for ranking health-related websites, however, we should always question where the information originates from.

"Google prioritizes webpages containing more complete and scientifically robust information about probiotics, particularly health portals, and these are given a higher ranking than commercial websites. However, the fact that there is such a large amount of commercially-oriented information is problematic for consumers who are searching for honest answers."
-end-
Notes to Editors

Please link to the original research article in your reporting:

Article: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2019.00296/full

Corresponding author: Dr. Michel Goldman
Email: mgoldman@i3health.eu

Corresponding Author's Institution: Institute for Interdisciplinary Innovation in healthcare, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

Frontiers is an award-winning Open Science platform and leading Open Access scholarly publisher. Our mission is to make research results openly available to the world, thereby accelerating scientific and technological innovation, societal progress and economic growth. We empower scientists with innovative Open Science solutions that radically improve how science is published, evaluated and disseminated to researchers, innovators and the public. Access to research results and data is open, free and customized through Internet Technology, thereby enabling rapid solutions to the critical challenges we face as humanity. For more information, visit http://www.frontiersin.org and follow @Frontiersin on Twitter.

Frontiers

Related Probiotics Articles from Brightsurf:

Probiotics may help manage childhood obesity
Probiotics may help children and adolescents with obesity lose weight when taken alongside a calorie-controlled diet, according to a study being presented at e-ECE 2020.

Which bacteria truly qualify as probiotics?
Today, the word probiotic is used to describe all kinds of 'good' microorganisms in foods and supplements.

AGA does not recommend the use of probiotics for most digestive conditions
After a detailed review of available literature, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) has released new clinical guidelines finding that for most digestive conditions there is not enough evidence to support the use of probiotics.

Probiotics may help treat acne
Acne is caused by chronic inflammation and is often treated with antibiotics.

Beware probiotics in ICU patients
A collaborative study published in Nature Medicine sounds a note of caution in using probiotics in the ICU.

Using probiotics to protect honey bees against fatal disease
A group of researchers at Western and Lawson combined their expertise in probiotics and bee biology to supplement honey bee food with probiotics, in the form a BioPatty, in their experimental apiaries.

Scientists revealed how probiotics influence human gut bacteria
A group of researchers from ITMO University and Knomics company studied how gut microbiota of 150 volunteers changed after a month of regular consumption of yogurt fortified with probiotics.

Breastmilk sugars differ in pregnant women on probiotics
The complex sugars found in human breastmilk, long believed to be fixed in their composition, may change in women who are taking probiotics, according to new research from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

Probiotics could help millions of patients suffering from bipolar disorder
About 3 million people in the US are diagnosed every year with bipolar disorder, a psychiatric condition characterized by dramatic shifts in mood from depression to mania.

Probiotics no help to young kids with stomach virus
A major US study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St.

Read More: Probiotics News and Probiotics Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.