The probiotic food industry has a dirty secret:
It’s creating a billion-dollar business based on twisted science.
Probiotics — the healthy bacteria highlighted on most yogurt products — are being added to everything from popcorn to muffin mixes.
According to a report by Grand View Research, the market for probiotics supplements is expected to reach $7 billion in the next 7 years.
Here’s the thing: That business is built on a little bit of science…and a lot of fiction.
“There are many products labeled with the word ‘probiotic’ in the U.S., but not all are responsibly formatted or studied for health benefits,” says Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D., executive science officer of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.
The science is that probiotics are good for you — but only if you have a condition that requires their use.
That’s not something you’ll want to hear if your pantry and fridge are filled with probiotic-infused foods.
“The benefits of probiotics in foods — especially foods that aren’t fermented dairy products — is questionable, at best,” says Shira Doron, M.D., professor of medicine and attending physician in iinfectious diseases at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to food, many probiotic supplements fail to live up to the promise on their label.
Sanders adds that, unless you have a specific condition that’s been shown to benefit from probiotics, you don’t need them.
“There is no evidence that it is essential to take probiotics to be healthy,” Sanders adds.
Her next point may be even more important:
“You don’t need probiotics if you are healthy,” Sanders says.
The Hype (and Mythology) of Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that feed the health bacteria in your gut. Most people treat probiotics the same way they would a multivitamin.
In theory, the benefit of a multivitamin is that it helps make up for deficiencies from your diet. So, if you have a good multivitamin (that’s an entirely different story), and you don’t have a great diet, then it might offer you some benefits.
Here’s the thing:
Probiotics do not function like multivitamins.
Whereas multivitamins can have a benefit for anyone because it helps support deficiencies, probiotics are really designed to help treat, improve, or solve dysfunction.
You need probiotics if your microbiome (i.e. your gut health) is messed up. This means that taking probiotics can be very helpful if you suffer from a condition such as irritable bowel disease.
But if not, then your use of probiotics might not be doing as much good as you hoped.