Our Response to Probiotics are Bad “Study”

Just one Google search for probiotics or gut health and you’ll see a new wave of articles stating “probiotics are bad.” Not Michael Jackson, “Who’s bad?” But like, Nickelback bad.

In a single keystroke, trending health news articles are linking probiotics to conditions such as brain fog and bloating. There’s even a rumor going around that probiotics made people hear Yanny over Laurel. Okay, not really. Although…it’s clearly Laurel.

Think that sounds absurd? So does this whole “probiotics are bad” theory. Seeing as we are a company who formulates probiotic supplements, it is our duty to address these rumors. As the Founder and CEO of Thryve, I, Richard Lin, plan on doing just that. Except I will use transparency and science-based facts.

Before we begin, take a minute to Google search for probiotics. Just be sure to come back to this article. We’ll wait.

Probiotics. Brain Fog. Bloating. The New Clickbait.

Welcome back. Was your trip to a probiotics Google search as scary for you as it was for us? After all, the whole search engine is inundated with reading material such as:

If that wasn’t a nightmare enough for a probiotic supplement company, even Dr. Oz jumped on the bandwagon! He recently ran an episode called, “Could probiotics be harming you?” That’s right, the doctor on TV is throwing shade, too! Now we know how celebrities feel when they see false headlines about them at the supermarket. (We heart you, Jennifer Aniston).

An Analysis of Probiotics are Bad Study

All disease begins with an inflammation. The same is true for media. These inflammatory pieces can all be traced back to one source. It was a paper entitled: Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis. The publisher of this paper is Satish S.C. Rao from Augusta University.

While I can go into detail about study design, other credible sources already have. International Probiotics Association (IPA) Scientific Director, Dr. Jessica Yunes Ph.D., and Dupont Nutrition and Health Research  Manager, Dr. Artur Ouwehand, Ph.D., wrote a very in-depth rebuttal of Dr. Rao.

You can read the entire statement here. However, I will summarize a few holes they found in the probiotics are bad study.

  1. Brain fogginess is subjective and we currently have no gold standard of measuring it.
  2. The authors themselves did not provide a method in which brain fog was diagnosed.
  3. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a broad term that a government-funded study described as, “a very heterogeneous syndrome characterised by an increased number and/or abnormal type of bacteria in the small bowel.”
  4. Symptoms of SIBO don’t show. Therefore, many (if not all) of the 30 patients may have had SIBO before taking probiotics.
  5. Lack of baseline measurements for lactic acid in the sample size makes links between symptoms and probiotic usage sparse.

These are just a few of the holes in the probiotics are bad study. Now, let’s use science-based studies to shed some light on the benefits of probiotics.

Why Are Probiotics Good For You?

The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, famously said, “All disease begins in the gut.” In the centuries since, studies have confirmed that our microbiome is responsible for our overall health.

Our microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Freaky, I know but don’t go Tide Pod Challenge yourself over this. When all is going well, most of these bugs are good guys. These good guys are known as probiotics. Probiotics are why we have a strong immune system and satisfactory health through most of our life.

However, a lifetime of poor food choices, artificial sugars, medications, and other outlying factors begin to damage good bacteria in the microbiome. As this happens, bad bacteria starts to manifest. Eventually, the harmful bacteria take over.

Studies have linked poor gut health with the following conditions:

What did Hippocrates say about all diseases beginning in the gut? I guess father does know best! This list of studies about the microbiome doesn’t even scratch the surface on how interconnected the gut is with the rest of your system. So, when the bad bacteria is overtaking the system, the only way to replenish probiotics is to consume probiotics.

You can get probiotics by eating them in your diet. Foods such as pickles, kraut, and yogurt are chock full of live cultures that will help bring balance to your microbiome. However, a lot of these foods are not staples in most people diets. That’s why probiotic supplements are a great addition to any overall health regimen.

What Studies Really Say About Probiotics and Bloating

Now it’s time to address the accusations that probiotics cause bloating. According to the Mayo Clinic, bloating is one of the most common symptoms of IBS.

A 2015 meta-analysis determined the effectiveness of probiotics on IBS. This meta-analysis reviewed 15 randomized, double-blind clinical trials that were conducted during 2007-2013. Unlike the “Probiotics are Bad” study that oversaw 30 patients, this meta-analysis reviewed the results of 1,793 people.

What did they conclude on “bloating”?

Directly from the meta-analysis, “Flatulence and bloating were improved in probiotics-receiving adult patients after 4 wk. Moreover, probiotics alleviated distension and bloating in adult female patients with C-IBS.” They further cemented this statement with, “A crossover clinical trial showed that bloating/gassiness in 42/59 IBS children was improved.”

The IBS and SIBO Connection

Are you wondering why I am discussing IBS when the “Probiotics are bad” study name-dropped SIBO as the condition in question? I bring IBS up because as you dive down the rabbit hole, you will see that SIBO and IBS are very much related. One study of 331 patients found, “SIBO was present in nearly half of the IBS-D patients.”

Another meta-analysis looking at the link between the two conditions stated in their conclusion that the “Association between IBS and SIBO is definite.” Therefore, if probiotics can help with the symptoms of IBS, shouldn’t it help SIBO? That’s not what the Probiotics are bad study is saying!

Well, the same study that found the association between IBS and SIBO definite also found that probiotics can help. The meta-analysis stated, “A study showed that treatment with probiotics was effective in reducing symptoms of abdominal pain, bowel frequency, urgency and distension in patients with chronic diarrhea.”

The meta-analysis concluded, “In a single blinded randomized control trial, IBS patients randomized to receive Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus helveticus, and Bifidobacterium showed significant improvement in pain and bloating as compared to those who received placebo.”

So Why Was The Probiotics Are Bad Article Created?

Now that we know where the source of the clickbait began, it’s essential to get to the reason why it was created in the first place. As the Founder and CEO of a probiotics supplement company, I am using transparency to explain why probiotics are important to me. My agenda is to improve the health of millions with probiotics just like probiotic supplements have improved my life.

So, what is Dr. Rao’s agenda?

Here are Dr. Rao’s research interests from his official Augusta University profile:

That’s right. Dr. Rao is interested in IBS. How deep is this interest? Deep enough that Dr. Rao divulged his list of potentially competing interests. You can find them tucked away at the end of the Author Acknowledgement section of the study. We saved you the trouble here:

From: Nature.com Probiotics are Bad Study

Let’s look deeper at the companies where Dr. Rao has affiliations and holds advisory positions. Perhaps there’s a common link?

So…are Dr. Rao’s interests in IBS vested or invested? The market for IBS affects 10-15% of the world’s population (760M-1.15B people). This number will continue to increase due to the number of poor diets, artificial sugars, and medications affecting people today. Research shows that the IBS industry will reach $1.5B by 2023.

No wonder why Dr. Rao wants to drag the good name of probiotics through the mud! As long as people have IBS, the companies he is affiliated with will benefit. If people use probiotic supplements for IBS, it will take a cut out of the $1.5B the IBS industry is banking on.

What Do We Do From Here?

We’ve become a very clickbait society. With the shareable nature of social media, most of us browse headlines. Most take those tiny blurs they read for a fact. However, you know what they say. Don’t judge a book by its cover. The headline is not the whole story.

Want to get the whole story? Question everything. Do they provide links? If so, click them. What are the sources? Are they credible studies and reputable media outlets?

Lastly, do some research on the author. Anyone who sits down to write a paper has an agenda. Sometimes, the goal is not as transparent as a quick scroll down a page. However, a few Google searches and you will find your answer.

For me, the agenda of this article is to set the record straight on probiotics. I want to share all the good these supplements can do for the world. For Dr. Rao, the agenda is to steer patients away from products that may help the conditions his affiliates make prescriptions for. Please don’t fall for the clickbait. Your health is depending on you.

Disclaimer: Richard is the CEO of Thryve Gut Health a microbiome testing and personalized probiotics company.