News from the AGA

A guide to talking with patients about probiotics


 

Two recent studies published in Cell, “Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Is Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome Features” and “Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT,” have received significant media coverage and are causing questions and concern among physicians and patients who use probiotic supplements.

Talking to patients about probiotics

1. Probiotics are generally thought to be safe for healthy individuals, but we don’t know the long-term consequences. For individuals who have a chronic disease, are immunocompromised, or otherwise vulnerable (such as the elderly), patients should seek guidance from physicians on whether probiotics may be appropriate. In general, probiotics should not be used indiscriminately; potential risk and benefit should be considered as for all human interventions.

2. This research does not conclude that probiotics are unsafe or useless for everyone. However, the results suggest that individuals may respond very differently to the same probiotic product depending on their diet, genetics, microbiome and other aspects of their health. Experts are trying to better understand which bacteria are best for whom, under which conditions as we transition from an era of empiric medicine to precision medicine.

3. Probiotics currently on the market are foods or dietary supplements. To date, no probiotic products have been approved by the FDA to treat, mitigate, cure, or prevent specific diseases.

AGA has recently developed educational materials for patients on probiotics, which can be accessed at www.gastro.org/probiotics in English and Spanish. Share this resource with your patients by printing it out, emailing it, or uploading it to your patient portal.

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