The world of Tzu Chi Augusts 2021 (Vol.136)

2021 • 08 48 ellness Translated by Lee Shee Yik Probiotics Are Not Cure-Alls Most people do not think much about the safety of probiotic products, nor question if the products are helpful to people without gastrointestinal problems, let alone think about their counter effects on our body. A friend of mine was recently talked into buying probiotic products. This friend was informed about all the benefits of probiotics but nothing was mentioned about the side or counter effects of this supplementation. Thus sparked a serious discussion about probiotic supplementation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Looking back at when I first came into contact with probiotics, I was no less confused than the public. Based on WHO and FAO’s definition, we could not make out what kind of probiotics are beneficial to the human body, and how much would be considered as an “adequate amount”. After so many years, scientific researchers are still trying to solve the puzzles. From my personal experiences, I found that some consumers did not understand two key points before purchasing such products. Firstly, intestinal microbiota that coexist with us does bring health benefits. However, we should not assume that all probiotics will bring the same benefits. Secondly, medicines and dietary supplements should not be confused. Probiotic products are dietary supplements, not medicines. This means that they can be sold on the market without proof of their efficacy. Due to the acclaims of probiotic products, people with no gastrointestinal problems also buy them without much thought as they believe that the probiotics contribute towards maintenance of one’s health. I found that generally people do not consider nor question the safety in terms of the counter effects of such products on a healthy body. A study conducted by Professor Margaret Morris of the University of New South Wales in Australia discovered that for rats on a healthy and balanced diet, the probiotics fed had little impact on microbial diversity, and actually impaired recognition memory. A paper published in a scientific journal, Cell Press , in 2018, may serve as a reference. The paper was authored by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. It explores the effectiveness of probiotics. Do probiotics consumed colonize the gut then play their roles as expected? Or, are they excreted directly through faeces? Professor Eran Elinav, the lead author of the paper, found that only some people who took the probiotics showed signs of temporary colonization, while for others, the probiotics could not grow in their intestines at all. Each individual is unique and so is their microbiome. The same probiotic strain may not