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Are you pro or anti-biotics?

Paul Alper points to this news article by Susan Perry:

Probiotics have been overhyped and rely on ‘shaky’ science, reporter finds

Although some of these studies’ results may be promising, they aren’t strong enough to support the long list of claims currently being made by the manufacturers of probiotic products. . . .

Perry links to a news article by Megan Scudellari, who writes:

Based on the smaller-scale studies done so far, there’s no indication that probiotics can treat obesity, autism, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Nor do they seem effective against the flu or common cold. . . .

I’m reminded of the Peter De Vries book in which a character was asked if he was pro or anti-macassar.

P.S. More on macassar here.

13 Comments

  1. BenK says:

    Lining up the claims of manufacturers with the science doesn’t do the science justice, frankly.
    We should all be pro-probiotic, pro-prebiotic, and pro-antibiotic – conditional on the right treatment for the right clinical picture.

    For a thread to tug, showing a mechanistically-explored probiotic research program, try:
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0084877
    For some links to the mechanisms of colonization resistance against infection:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v502/n7469/abs/nature12503.html
    http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v13/n11/abs/nri3535.html

    If you want a really interesting challenge, though, are you pro- or anti-helminth?

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6285/608

  2. It seems to me we should make the distinction here between two questions:

    1) Does the mixture of bacteria that inhabit your body affect your health? The answer is unequivocally YES.

    2) Does ingesting product X alter the mixture of bacteria in any way, and/or improve health? The answer is “we don’t really know” for pretty much every product because there are very few studies.

    However, with safety profiles like the ones they mention in the article (“Yet one can gorge mice on probiotics day and night, and none will die”) this seems like a very fruitful area for *self experimentation* particularly because we do have scientific evidence that the best bacteria for a given person is probably customized to that person’s body for example: ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/04/28/scientists-think-theyve-found-the-secret-to-better-poop-transplants/ )

    So, I think the implicit message here is “this is all hocus pocus” but I don’t think that’s the case at all. We have good models for why this should work under some circumstances, and a bunch of data that suggests microbiota imbalance is important (not the least of which is the C. difficile issue that has become more and more common among those treated by antibiotics)

  3. Antimacassars came into use because so many people were pro-macassar. They put the stuff (macassar oil) in their hair. When they leaned their heads back against the upholstery, they soiled the fabric.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Thanks for this. I’d often wondered where the name “antimacassar” came from, but never looked it up. I find it interesting that when I was a child, men in my parents’ generation (and boys in mine — at least for “dress-up” occasions) still used hair oil (e.g. Vaseline hair tonic), but antimacassars were mostly a thing of my grandparents generation — and not even all of them.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        I belatedly remembered hearing that my grandfather and his brother slicked down their hair with lard when they went to church when they were boys. I am guessing that lard was the original, and macassar was a “high class” variant not affordable by poor farm boys.

  4. Paul Alper says:

    The term “antimacassar” precedes the birth of everyone who contributes to this blog. Not many of us were born before the term “antibiotic” but quite a few arrived before the term “probiotic” came into vogue. The appellation “probiotic” sounds very positive, however according to Megan Scudellari

    “But doctors are wary because the health benefits have not been proved, and because it’s hard to know exactly what’s in commercial products. At least seven studies have found discrepancies between what’s on the label and what’s in the product, especially in products containing multiple bacterial strains. A 2015 analysis of 16 probiotic products, for example, found that only one of 16 exactly matched the bacterial species claims on the label in every sample tested.”

  5. Huh. I didn’t even know people were making such claims for probiotics. My understanding was that probiotics were for replenishing your gut bacteria when a course of antibiotics has depleted them.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Aunty Macassar and her Platy Helminthes is a plausible name for a Band. Our first album will be called “Shaky Science” and feature the punk rock anthem “Suck my PNAS”

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