Last week a study was released in the press, including in the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Times, claiming that probiotic drinks and supplements are 'unlikely to have any health benefits'. The study involved scientists from University College London (UCL) who put eight probiotic products, Align, Bio Balance, Bio-Kult and Probio7, Yakult, Actimel, VSL#3, Symprove through three different tests. The tests investigated whether products contained as many live bacteria as claimed on their labels, whether they survived stomach acidity and if they then flourished in the gut. Only one product apparently passed all of the tests.


What we say

Whilst we can’t actually see the full study, we think it's important to put it into context and look at the overall picture. This UCL study appears to have used in-vitro data only, whereas when considering research, it’s clinical trials that are considered key. There is a lot of clinical research to support the use of our probiotic products and their health benefits, and we are confident that had we been included in the study we would have passed the tests with flying colours! Below I set out how and why.

Shelf Stability

As mentioned, this study looked at three different points. The first tested whether the product contained as many bacteria by the end of its shelf life as it claims. When it comes to testing viability of a probiotic, of course we cannot speak for other companies, but presumably some probiotic products are not tested at all to contain the amount of microorganisms stated on the pack. The next step up would be an accelerated experiment, taking 6 months or so, and subjecting the probiotics to higher temperatures than those expected of the product in reality. From what we are able to gleam, a number of probiotics are tested this way. However, we go yet a step further and test the products using the laborious process of literally leaving the product in carefully controlled conditions for two years and testing at regular intervals by taking a capsule and counting the bacteria present under a microscope! This way we know with confidence that our products have at least, if not more, microorganisms as the amount stated on the packaging by the end of its given shelf life.

pH survival

Survival is an important factor when selecting a high quality probiotic. Indeed there would be no point in taking a probiotic if the microorganisms were killed off in the stomach acidity, and didn't reach the intended destination (usually the gut)! Hence the second test in this UCL study, looked at whether the bacteria survive the acidic conditions of the stomach. This is again one for which the OptiBac Probiotics range has extensive tests. Your stomach pH actually varies over the day, but is of course more acidic rather than neutral or alkaline (so that we can digest food properly, and defend against pathogens entering the system). Our products are thoroughly tested and shown to have a very good survival rate at pH 3 and above. We also actually recommend that our product should be taken at breakfast time when the stomach is less acidic. Some of the strains, for example Lactobacillus rhamnosus Rosell-11 in ‘For every day’ also have been clinically trialled to show that the bacteria can still be found in stool samples, showing clearly that they have survived the acidic environment of the stomach. Similarly, the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1® and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14® found in ‘For women’ have been extensively researched, and have been tested and found in vaginal swabs - this again demonstrates that the strains survived the stomach acidity, as they reached their intended destination! (Read more about the research behind 'For women')

Adherence

The final point the study made was that the bacteria, in all but one product, failed to ‘flourish’ and thrive in the gut. In order to flourish we know that generally, the first criteria is to adhere to the gut wall - a factor necessary for colonisation, so we will here look at our tests on adherence. We have plenty of research to show that the strains in our range do in fact adhere to the epithelial cells in the intestine. It is clearly very difficult to measure this adherence without doing intestinal tissue biopsies. Therefore, scientists have developed in-vitro adherence tests with human cells grown in tissue cultures. All our strains are tested this way. L. acidophilus NCFM® present in ‘For every day EXTRA strength’ is particularly well known for its ability to adhere to human epithelial cell lines.

It is worth noting that not all strains work by adherence. S. boulardii for example is not meant to adhere to the gut wall but rather works in a transient manner. Furthermore, adherence can be an interesting testing point in that bacteria can also work by inhibiting pathogens from adhering to cell walls. In-vitro studies show that L. acidophilus Rosell-52 and L. rhamnosus Rosell-11 for example, are both capable of inhibiting the adhesion to intestinal epithelial cells of enteropathogenic E. coli O127:H6 and enterohemorrhagic E. coli O157:H7, which are respectively responsible for prolonged diarrhoea in children and hemorrhagic colitis.


Clinical trials

We consider ourselves to be one of the bigger consumer brands of probiotics compared to some of those selected, and were therefore surprised that we were not included in the study! Given that our range of probiotics are well researched we are confident we would have passed the tests.

As mentioned, this study is based on in-vitro tests only. We know that clinical trials are in general given more importance than in-vitro, as at the end of the day, you can do plenty of tests in a test tube, but it is very difficult to replicate the effect of a supplement or medicine once in the human body. This is what clinical trials are for. There is growing evidence in the form of clinical trials to suggest that various probiotic strains do have health benefits. It would then be logical to point out that for clinical trials to show that the strains we use have health benefits they would have had to colonise the gut.

And then there is the lesser known fact about strain specificity. The study did not go into the difference between strains of live bacteria and that in fact they all have different roles to play. This is key, as one strain which works in one area, may have no effect on another. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1® has been proven to colonise the vaginal tract and be effective in helping to alleviate cystitis, but this particular strain is not proven to colonise the gut and is thought to play little role there.

To find out more about our clinical trials click here.

Are probiotic drinks better than supplements?

One of the apparent conclusions of this study is that drinks are better than supplements. We find this a little subjective for two reasons. Firstly two out of three of the probiotic drink products supposedly failed the tests so it seems a confusing that they should be considered better. And secondly, very simply put, if you want a probiotic to work, you need to find the specific strain for the function you want to achieve. This is one of our main focuses here at OptiBac Probiotics.

Surely the proof is in the pudding? The probiotic industry is not growing purely because of marketing, but rather because the research covering the enormous impact of our microflora is growing at a fast pace, and as importantly because consumers actually find they work. It’s not all doom and gloom. We are pleased to see an article published in the Daily Mail today recognising the value of probiotics for a variety of health issues as long as from a reputable source. It goes on to mention OptiBac Probiotics as one of those. We are glad to see that the Daily Mail hasn’t lost faith in our probiotics! Read more about their write up here, or for more information on our range and ethos, read what we do.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2752798/The-probiotic-drinks-don-t-bring-benefits-Study-finds-good-bacteria-products-does-not-reach-small-intestine.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11091887/Probiotics-how-each-fared-and-what-they-contain.html

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4204202.ece

First image: www.after10thwhat.com

Comments

  • Firstly I would like to congratulate you on your representation of your products and your efforts on behalf of the people you serve. As a herbalist and iridologist I work in the same field, that of bringing people to the realisation of our mutual interrelatedness and interdependence, environment, body, mind and spirit. Whilst I am privileged to enjoy very good health, my wife suffered polio as a small child and has developed all manner of other health problems over her lifetime. Some months ago it was discovered that she had pernicous anaemia and no amount of investigation has revealed a cause. Is it possible you might be able to confidently recommend one of your products for her to try. We are on a very healthy, natural diet and are making and consuming our own kefir daily with unpasteurised goat's milk. About a week ago she started a course of Immunocal concentrated whey, particularly to enhance her 'stock' of Glutathione. Best wishes for all your endeavours, Michael Brookman.

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Dear Michael<br><br

    Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that your wife has had this diagnosis, but it sounds like she is endeavouring to manage it as best as she can. I think the concept of boosting the gut microbiota is definitely one of the most obvious ways forward, given the involvement of the immune system and parietal cells. Furthermore, as I’m sure you well know, the gut microbiota is known to produce vitamin B12, which over time may be able to compensate for the lack of intrinsic factor. In terms of probiotic supplements, as a good all-round, well-researched, daily probiotic I would recommend <a href="/shop/for-every-day-extra-strength">For every day</a> EXTRA Strength. In addition I think you would be interested to read more about <a href="/shop/saccharomyces-boulardii">Saccharomyces boulardii</a>, which has been shown to help remove H. pylori from the system, and hence have some sort of an effect within the stomach. Although I have not heard of any studies about it being used to regulate autoimmune attack of parietal cells, it may well be a nice addition to the ‘For every day EXTRA Strength’, because of its ability to act within the stomach. I hope this information helps and gives you something to go on. <br><br>Wishing you and your wife the best of health, Megan

  • Dear Michael,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that your wife has had this diagnosis, but it sounds like she is endeavouring to manage it as best as she can. I think the concept of boosting the gut microbiota is definitely one of the most obvious ways forward, given the involvement of the immune system and parietal cells. Furthermore, as I’m sure you well know, the gut microbiota is known to produce vitamin B12, which over time may be able to compensate for the lack of intrinsic factor. In terms of probiotic supplements, as a good all-round, well-researched, daily probiotic I would recommend For every day EXTRA Strength. In addition I think you would be interested to read more about Saccharomyces boulardii, which has been shown to help remove H. pylori from the system, and hence have some sort of an effect within the stomach. Although I have not heard of any studies about it being used to regulate autoimmune attack of parietal cells, it may well be a nice addition to the ‘For every day EXTRA Strength’, because of its ability to act within the stomach. I hope this information helps and gives you something to go on. Wishing you and your wife the best of health, Megan

  • Excellent response to a test which, if you ask me, had FAR too much press coverage.

    Also important to question the source of funding for these 'trials' - this UCL study appears to have been funded by the one brand that seemingly passed all of the tests! what a coincidence ?!!

  • My 23-year son is having severe eczema. May I know which type of probiotic will improve his skin condition? He was with steriod for many years but the condition wasn't in complete control. As soon as he was off steriod, the condition worsened. He is in great pain and suicidal now and then. Appreciate your urgent advice. Thanks & regards

  • Dear Sue,
    Thank you for your comment. we will email you a reply to this query, but in the meantime you might find the following article interesting: https://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/live-cultures/articles/probiotics-and-eczema. Just to clarify, probiotics are natural supplements, and not medicines, and we are unable to give medical advice. We'd certainly recommend your son sees a doctor again, and I hope he feels better soon. Soraya

  • I am inclined to purchase your bifidobacteria+fibre in a quantity to meet the free shipping criteria to the USA. What I need to know is what is the shelf life of the product after receiving it. I cannot find the info in the Q&A.

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Dear Edward,

    Thank your for your question.
    All of our products have a very long shelf life, but in particular 'Bifidobacteria & fibre' typically has a shelf life of around two to three years, depending on when it is purchased. So it's ideal for bulk purchases!

    Best wishes,

    Kerry
    Customer Care and Nutritional Advisor
    OptiBac Probiotics



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