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Scientifically Understand Probiotics—Clarify 10 Misunderstandings About Probiotics

Probiotics and gut microbiota have been international research hotspots and social hot topics in recent years. In media reports, probiotics often have various health effects and can “treat multiple diseases”; however, some media reports that “probiotics are useless” or even “probiotics are harmful.” Conflicting information is not conducive to consumers’ scientific cognition and reasonable choices. Therefore, this article clarifies and interprets the 6 cognitive misunderstandings of probiotics for readers’ reference.


Myth 1: Probiotics = Lactobacillus

Probiotics refer to a type of live microorganisms that, when taken in sufficient amounts, can exert beneficial effects on human health, such as regulating the intestinal flora, promoting nutrient absorption, and regulating immunity. Lactic acid bacteria generally refers to the general name of bacteria that can ferment sugar and mainly produce lactic acid. It is not a strict microbial classification name.


Probiotics are not equal to lactic acid bacteria. Probiotics contain many strains, most of which are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus in lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium adolescentis, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus reuteri, etc. But not all lactic acid bacteria are probiotics, and some lactic acid bacteria may even be harmful to the human body. Only specific strains of lactic acid bacteria whose health effects have been scientifically verified can be called probiotics.


Myth 2: Prebiotics = Probiotics


Prebiotics are not probiotics. Prebiotics are substances that can be selectively used by intestinal microorganisms and produce certain health functions. Common prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides, isomalt oligosaccharides, inulin, galacto-oligosaccharides, and breast milk oligosaccharides. Although prebiotics cannot be digested by the human body, they can promote the growth and reproduction of beneficial bacteria in the intestines to promote human health. Therefore, under normal circumstances, a reasonable combination of probiotics and prebiotics will have a better effect. For example, the combination of fructo-oligosaccharide, galactooligosaccharide, inulin and bifidobacteria can promote the proliferation and function of bifidobacteria.


Myth 3: Dead bacteria are also considered probiotics


The metabolites and cellular components of dead bacteria may have certain health benefits. For example, polysaccharides, short-chain fatty acids and other substances are beneficial to health. However, most studies show that the effect of live probiotic bacteria is better than the corresponding dead bacteria. However, according to the definition of the World Health Organization, probiotics should be live bacteria, and dead bacteria are not probiotics. When purchasing related products, pay attention to the labeling. If the words “sterilization” or “inactivation treatment” are marked, the product does not contain live bacteria and is not a probiotic product.


Myth 4: Probiotics are harmful to health


Probiotics must be approved by relevant departments before they can be marketed. Approved probiotics are safe for most people, and there is no evidence that long-term consumption of probiotics has adverse effects. Consumers can use the product according to the recommendations of the product manual, but patients with immunodeficiency, critically ill patients and other special populations should consult their doctors before use.


Myth 5: The role of probiotics is the same


The effects of probiotics are strain-specific, that is, the effects of different probiotic strains are different, and there are also individual differences in the effects of probiotics on the host. Therefore, in order to facilitate consumers to make a reasonable choice, relevant companies should accurately label strain information and suitable people in product information. Consumers should choose according to the strain information, the claimed function and their own health status, and please consult experts if necessary.


Myth 6: The more viable bacteria, the better the probiotic effect


The effect of probiotics is related to the dose. Only enough probiotics can achieve the corresponding effects, but different strains have different doses for their health effects.


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