by Nick Kolyohin
JERUSALEM, July 9 (Xinhua) -- "The public rather than being advertised for claims that are not substantiated, should be told the truth, which is that these products (probiotics) in most cases are not sufficiently proven," said Eran Elinav, a top Israeli expert on gut microbes.
Probiotic products are a global industry worth billions of U.S. dollars. They are advertised worldwide as a healthy part of a balanced diet, and even as a required food supplement in certain health conditions.
Although probiotics are relatively well known and have been on the market for many years, there is still not enough conclusive research on what exactly those products do, if anything at all, for the human body.
Moreover, the industry is sponsoring some of the research itself, which is a clear conflict of interest and makes it even harder for consumers to determine the benefits among the variety of probiotic products on store shelves.
"The only reason we can all consume probiotics is that it is regulated not as a medication as it should be, but as a food supplement, and this enables the industry to bypass any sort of medical and scientific overview," Elinav told Xinhua.
Elinav is a professor in the department of immunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where his team has been working for years to gain a better understanding of what probiotics are doing to the human body.
The team's discoveries were published in many prestigious scientific and news outlets around the world. Nowadays, Elinav continues to research on probiotics at his lab in Israel.
Elinav's group of scientists showed in experiments that half of the people that consumed probiotics saw no colonization in their gut. They just came in from one side and came out from the other side, he stressed.
In another study, Elinav and his colleagues were surprised to find that, in some cases, probiotics even hindered the natural recovery of the natural gut microbes after antibiotic treatment.
This slow-down of the natural reconstitution of people's natural gut microbes could possibly be associated with long-term conditions such as "obesity, allergies, and many other potential human diseases," said Elinav.
Probiotics consist of live bacteria that, according to advertisements worldwide, are supposed to have a good effect on the human body. Probiotics are added to pills, yogurt, dairy products, baby food, pet food, and more.
Some of these bacteria, especially those that reside in the gut, are believed to be "good" and some "bad." When people are experiencing stress, illnesses and an insufficient diet, taking antibiotics can lead to the balance between the bacteria being compromised.
While scientists around the world examine how those bacteria impact various aspects of health, the probiotic industry was quick to claim that their products include strains of bacteria that are beneficial for various health conditions.
The industry also has professional associations that help promote their products, such as the International Probiotics Association (IPA), which stated last Wednesday, "just because the intervention did not recover the microbiota under the study conditions, does not mean that probiotics as a whole are ineffective."
In response, Elinav told Xinhua, "commercially sponsored associations need to be very carefully assessed when they make claims because of their commercial interests that are greatly underlying many of their comments."
Each of us has unique microorganisms, "trillions of bacteria", living inside of our body, and each of us has a unique biological relationship with them that impacts our health in a verity of ways.
Scientists are just beginning to understand this micro-world, its potential, and its role in our body. It could be found that microorganisms in our bodies define our uniqueness, similar to how our genes do it.
This microbiota is influencing human physiology, immunity, nervous and metabolic systems, as well as organ development.
In addition, microbial colonization is influencing a large variety of disease processes, ranging from chronic inflammatory disease to autoimmunity, obesity, and cancer.
Researchers in Weizmann Institute of Science continue to test how probiotics could benefit or damage people's health. Their conclusion is that probiotics could work, but be tailor-made for each individual.
"I am not saying that probiotics are a bad idea or probiotics may not necessarily work," stressed Elinav, adding that a long-term study is required by objective scientists and medical researchers.