It Turns Out That Probiotics Can Harm You

Pharmacies are full of things that don’t necessarily heal us – vitamin C, homeopathic drops, probiotics – but we just shrug and buy them because, hey, they can’t hurt . But now we have some concrete evidence that probiotics can be harmful if they aren’t quite right for the health condition you’re trying to treat.

The new study is being conducted in mice, but it serves as a warning for us humans. Researchers were looking for a cure for Cryptosporidium , a parasite that commonly causes diarrheal infections in young children. There are no effective drugs or vaccines for this condition, so the researchers wanted to see if probiotics could help. They infected Crypto mice and gave some of them a commercially available probiotic. (They didn’t name the probiotic.) But it turned out that the mice that received the probiotic had more serious infections than the mice that didn’t.

We call probiotics “the good bacteria,” but they are not infection-fighting superheroes; they are just microbes that often live harmlessly with us. Scientists still don’t know what exactly happens in our gut and what role each microbe plays. In some cases, probiotics help, but it depends on which probiotic and what kind of infection or health condition you are trying to treat, and possibly also which microbes are already calling your gut home. Therefore, it should not be assumed that probiotics are always the “good guys” willing to fight back the “bad guys.”

Probiotics have a good track record, part time. Certain specific brands have been shown to be helpful in treating certain conditions or symptoms. (For example, one list is here .) Probiotic research is still in its infancy. I’ve been saying this for years because it’s true: we don’t know all that probiotics will do under any circumstance. You always do a little experiment on yourself when you decide to try a probiotic . Maybe you will get better, maybe it won’t do anything, or maybe you will get worse.

In this case, it looks like any other supplement or questionable drug. For example, it is assumed that homeopathic remedies are composed primarily of water , but there are times when they contain poison or, more recently, contaminated water . Cold medicines are real medicines, but they often don’t work at all . Vitamins are essential for health , but they can cause discomfort if taken too much. Now we can add probiotics to the list of things that may be good for you, but can also backfire .


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