Microbiomania: The truth behind the hype about our bodily bugs

Microbiomania: The truth behind the hype about our bodily bugs

'Are they for us, against us or just cohabiting? It’s hard to know what to think about the microbes that live in and on us. In the same week that researchers announced that there is no evidence that probiotic supplements work, the White House launched the National Microbiome Initiative. This $500 million “moonshot” is intended to understand the vast colonies of bacteria, fungi and viruses that coevolved with our bodies, lands and oceans. The hope is that it will lead to breakthroughs in health and many other fields of science.'

New Scientist article - may need free registration:


The above article references this very interesting NHS choices article that is well worth reading - No evidence probiotics are beneficial for healthy adults. '"Probiotic goods a 'waste of money' for healthy adults, research suggests," The Guardian reports. A new review of previously gathered data found no evidence that probiotics improved the balance of gut bacteria in healthy adults.'


The NHS Choices article covers the following points:

- Where did the story come from?

- What kind of research was this?

- What did the research involve?

- What were the basic results?

- How did the researchers interpret the results?

- Conclusions, which ends with the summary:

'Overall, the current state of the evidence does not demonstrate that probiotics have any effect on gut bacteria in healthy people.

Given the limitations of these studies, that is not to say that all probiotics definitely have no effect. Further high-quality research in their use is needed.'

If you are interested in how we try and determine the impact of changes on our health, (and you should be, give that's how we try to determine how to combat CLL) the NHS Choices article is excellent, as it explains why experiment design is so crucial to ensuring that meaningful conclusions can be derived from research.


Photo: Bougainvillea bracts: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bract

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4 Replies

  • One of the key words is "healthy adults". Probiotics (admittedly the closest I get is yogurt) may be helpful in when people are not healthy. As an example, a recent mouse study that may show a link between antibiotics that are strong enough to kill gut bacteria may affect the growth of new brain cells.

    Ref: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep...

    Ly6Chi Monocytes Provide a Link between Antibiotic-Induced Changes in Gut Microbiota and Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis.

    In that case it appears that probiotics may prove useful.

    As we sort out what approaches are useful (or not) to watch for that phrase "healthy adults" and hold out for additional study for impacts on patients with CLL or other illness. One never knows what, if anything, will turn up.

  • Neil, there are numerous reports coming out daily on the importance of gut bacteria to all bodily systems, including the brain. I believe you are reporting on a study that is way out of date on reality. Bottom line, probiotics as a general term may not show value but it is very clear that gut bacteria is vital to our overall health

    Dennis, Auburn, AL, 69, 17 p delete, Ibrutinib

  • The paper behind this report was a systematic review of three literature databases up to August 2015. 'But reviews are only as good as the studies they include.

    Because of the vastly different designs of the various studies, the researchers were unable to perform a meta-analysis of the results.'

    A meta-analysis is 'a mathematical technique that combines the results of individual studies to arrive at one overall measure of the effect of a treatment.'

    As shoshanaz has highlighted, perhaps clearer results of a benefit would be shown if unhealthy adults were studied.

    Note the strong exception in the case of fecal transplants for 'Clostridium difficile infections, for which the transplants have a 90 per cent success rate.'


  • Neil another interesting article. You always bring us good stuff! You already know how positive I feel about probiotic's! :) Because they really help me and that's all the proof I need. We all know there are reasons for all of the bacteria and bugs in nature. They have been around as long as we have.....probably longer. Some are good bugs and some are bad bugs but they all have a purpose. Your example of fecal transplants is a good one.


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