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Are probiotic foods beneficial for the health?
Advertisements would certainly uphold such a benefit, but there are doubts about their veracity, according to a new assessment by Nutrimedia, a project of the Science Communication Observatory and the Iberoamerican Cochrane Center.
The term probiotic (“pro-life”) seems to implicitly involve a health benefit. In addition to breast milk, certain fermented milk products such as yoghurt and kefir are some of the probiotics most commonly associated with beneficial effects for the health.
There are many messages, even in the advertising of certain foods, that assume that probiotics are healthy and have positive effects on immunity, among other benefits. But there are also quite a few doubts surrounding the veracity of these messages, as evidenced by one of the questions raised by the public in the Nutrimedia survey.
A new assessment by the Nutrimedia project, conducted by the UPF’s Science Communication Observatory (OCC) of the Department of Communication together with the Iberoamerican Cochrane Center, concludes that consuming dairy products with probiotics, compared with not consuming them or consuming dairy products without probiotics, may not be associated with any health benefit.
The results of the studies analysed in this assessment indicate, with a degree of certainty generally between low and very low, that increased consumption of probiotic foods (in particular fermented dairy products) may provide little or no health benefit compared to not eating these foods or consuming dairy products without probiotics.
Messages that assure the beneficial effects of probiotics on mortality, cardiovascular disease and immunity are possibly false
This Nutrimedia assessment looked at the most relevant studies available that analysed the effect of the consumption of dairy products fermented with probiotics on death by any cause and the development of cardiovascular disease. In both cases, the effect observed is virtually non-existent (none or very little).
Also, other studies have been assessed that evaluated the effect of the consumption of probiotic dairy produce on some markers of immunity: C-reactive protein, tumour necrosis factor α and interleukin 4. And what was observed is that the beneficial effect on these markers is small. But, considering that the degree of certainty of these results is very low, it is concluded that the possible beneficial effect is rather uncertain.
Consequently, messages that assure the beneficial effects of probiotics on mortality, cardiovascular disease and immunity are possibly false.
Some of the main conclusions of this new assessment by Nutrimedia are:
- The consumption of fermented dairy products could produce little or no difference to the risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease.
- It is not known whether or not the consumption of probiotic yoghurt improves the immune response, assessed by means of indirect parameters.
- The degree of certainty of the results of the studies analysed is low or very low, hence there is a great deal of uncertainty about the effects of probiotic foods.
- The lack of evidence today on the beneficial effects of probiotics does not prove that these foods are not beneficial for the health: it simply indicates that, at present, there is no solid scientific evidence.
Technical report (pdf)
Additional information on this type of food and other related concepts can be found in this article by Nutrimedia: De qué hablamos cuando hablamos de microbiota, microbioma y probióticos