Thursday, April 4, 2013

Probiotics for Everything!

Since I have been trolling a particular website for bad info-graphics this week, I have been witnessing the most amazing leaps in logical fallacies.  Since some of these graphics actually contain a grain of truth, I have been having fun playing "How much truth distortion can we fit in?"  Want to play too?  Good, let's start with this info-graphic on one of my favorite topics:
Since this is a favorite topic/pet peeve with me, yes, I have written a similar post before.Not feeling like following links today?  Ok, let me summarize.  Pro-biotics that we take over the counter or in yogurt, etc are usually seen as foreign bodies and eliminated as waste.  The only strong evidence we have for the use of pro-biotics is when they are given to someone who is on antibiotics--they can form a temporary "shield" against unfavorable bacteria until the person ceases the course of antibiotics and gets a chance to start repleneshing by eating pre-biotic foods.    Now to the game:

1) Treats infections.  I think in this context, the definition they are trying to employ is "The invasion of the body of a human or an animal by a pathogen such as a bacterium, fungus, or virus. "  It seems as thought the creators of this graphic have started with the assumption, however, that all "infections" are caused by bacterium, and they are skipping over the whole "virus" part.  Anti-biotics can only be used to treat BACTERIAL infections and not viral infections, otherwise you wind up with antibiotic resistance.  Second, infections can either be localized, as in the case of sinusitis, or they can be a nasty systemic infection (often called "blood poisoning).  So what kind of "infection" are we talking about here, and would I really want to mainline yogurt for sepsis (no).  There is a limited amount of evidence that pro-biotic suppositories can be used to treat vaginal yeast infections, but that evidence is mixed (Link).  And I have noted that some sites that recommend the vaginal suppositories usually have to spell out that the pro-biotics need to be placed directly in the vagina.
Your point? Not all infections are bacterial, and the thought of pouring pro-biotics into my sinuses is really grossing me out.  Oh sorry, there's only limited evidence for treating vaginal yeast infections.

2) Prevents eczema.  We actually have a repeat of point one, in that eczema is another all encompassing term for a variety of different skin conditions with a variety of different causes.  Anytime you see that substance "A" is suppossed to treat a wide spectrum of things you should be suspicious.  I am also trying to figure out how taking pro-biotics could actually prevent, let's say, someone from reacting to a shampoo additive, and they probably just need to not use that shampoo anymore.  And then there was this rather frightening little notation about how people with eczema and certain autoimmune conditions actually developed life threatening conditions while taking pro-biotics.
Your point? You are going to be much safer figuring out the cause of the eczema and removing the offending agent.

3) Decreases the Severity of Colds and Flu.  Well, they might actually be on to something here.  We have one little study done on college students that did assign a placebo or a pro-biotic supplement during a cold outbreak, and those on pro-biotics did report a reduction in symptoms.  Apparently the study was randomized and double-blind which is positive.  Of course, one of the things that was pointed out in the press release was that a particular strain of pro-biotics was used for this study as oppossed to someone just buying whatever came off the shelf (or whatever was cheapest). (Link)
Your point?  If you don't have any other conditions that would preclude the use of probiotics, then taking this particular strain if you have a cold might provide you with some symptom relief (but not a cure).

4) Treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Once again, we have another positive leaning "maybe" here.  There have been some small studies, including randomized ones, that indicate a relief of symptoms with both diarrhea and constipation dominant IBS.   I will throw in an anecdote/caveat, however, that in a real world situation, someone who has IBS might be changing his/her diet (i.e. eliminate the foods that are aggravating the IBS) along with taking probiotics, and then it becomes harder to determine whether it was really the probiotics or the diet that treated it.  Let me throw in one more anecdote if you don't mind--as a person who likes to minimize what I have to "take," I found that my symptoms are controlled with diet and that probiotics are not necessary (and actually cause more gas/bloating when I take them).  But for those that are still having problems after changing their diet (or who have trouble changing their diet for whatever reason) I could see how the potential for treatment would be welcome.
Your point?  If diet changes do not improve your IBS symptoms, probiotics might be worth a try if you continue with your diet changes.

5) Prevents diarrhea.  And now we have a repeat of point one and two!  Diarrhea from what?  From a viral illness?  From a food borne illness?  From a medication reaction?  From eating something that you know normally gives you diarrhea?  Here, let me repeat myself again--The only strong evidence we have for the use of pro-biotics is when they are given to someone who is on antibiotics--they can form a temporary "shield" against unfavorable bacteria until the person ceases the course of antibiotics and gets a chance to start repleneshing by eating pre-biotic foods.
Your point? It can prevent diarrhea from a specific cause only.

6) Treats painful inflammation. I think whomever created this graphic was trying to see how many vague conditions they could fit into one space.  Since the term was "painful" inflammation it appears as though the reference is to arthritis pain, possibly a type of rheumatoid arthritis which is often characterized by painful, swollen joints.  I could only find one study, non-peer reviewed and not done in humans that pertained to this, so I can't draw any conclusions here. (Link)
Your point? Might help with inflammatory bowel disease, but not with arthritis.

7) Helps maintain a healthy immune system. Covered that here, second to last paragraph. 
Your point? If you want to sell something, claim something about the immune system.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Wow! This is such well-explained facts about probiotics. Thank you for sharing this to everyone,
    We should be aware of what probiotics can do to our body.
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  3. Such a nice post. We need to take proper probiotics in building nutrients on our health to make our bodies more stronger.