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Probiotics, a guide to false myths

November 21, 2018

Probiotics are living microorganisms that, if administered in the right quantities, have a beneficial effect on the health of those who “host” them. These are the good bacteria that are added to our heritage, the intestinal microbiota. Then there are the prebiotics, substances that, not being absorbed into the intestine, selectively promote the growth and activity of one or more bacteria already present in the intestinal tract. With Dr. Beatrice Salvioli, gastroenterologist at Humanitas, we talked about the uses and differences of these microorganisms.

When is it necessary to take prebiotics?

“In essence, probiotics are the army of salvation, but the selection of the best soldiers, prebiotics do – explained, in simple words Dr. Salvioli -. Often people want to know if using prebiotics is possible to restore a bacterial flora damaged by viruses or other intestinal infections. However, this is too complex a subject to be explained in a few words. Let’s say that, to date, we tend to think that probiotics, being harmless substances, at most do nothing.


In fact, this concept is about to be revolutionized by the latest studies published in the literature: “It is never certain the amount of product that arrives unscathed in the intestine, after passing the gastric acid barrier – continued Salvioli -. The effects on “good” colonization are vague as the bacteria in the host can facilitate or block the effect of probiotics taken. After antibiotic therapy, instead of accelerating the balance of the microbiota, probiotics can even lengthen its recovery; probiotic formulations contain additives that can be harmful to health.


An economic boom to be reassessed

“So, in view of the incredible economic boom of probiotics in recent years, I am convinced that it is necessary to review the indications. Generally, probiotics are recommended for a variety of clinical conditions that include strengthening the immune system, preventing metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, improving intestinal function, especially following infectious diseases. The most wrong attitude, in my opinion, is to rely on advertisements or what is displayed on the counter in pharmacies – concluded the doctor -. One tends, erroneously, to think that the more bacterial strains there are, the better. Since we are realizing that this is not the case, I would advise you to talk to your doctor or specialist to see if it really makes sense to take them on, also because the costs per package are not indifferent.


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