As probiotics grow in popularity, a recent study investigates the reliability of online information. They find that the majority of “top” websites provide information that lacks scientific evidence.
As scientists have become increasingly interested in the role of gut bacteria, so has the public. In parallel with the microbiome’s rise to fame, probiotics have grown ever more popular.
Probiotics are live organisms that manufacturers add to a range of foods, most commonly yogurts. Their marketing information often contains an array of health claims, from improving digestive health to boosting the immune system.
Probiotics are now big business. In 2017, the probiotics market in the United States was worth more than $40 billion, according to the authors of the recent study.
Claims and accuracy examined
As with many products today, online sales and marketing play a significant role. With this in mind, researchers from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the United Kingdom and the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium assessed online claims about these products for accuracy.`
To investigate, they collected information from top-ranked webpages in Google searches. Co-author Prof. Michel Goldman explains that “often, the public will not go past the first 10 results — these will, therefore, have a higher visibility and impact.”
First, the authors analyzed the pages for accuracy. Next, they checked the information against the Cochrane library, which is a database of evidence-based medical information, including clinical trials and meta-analyses.
Prof. Goldman explains their approach: “We assessed the first 150 webpages brought up by a Google search for ‘probiotics’ and recorded where they originated from and the diseases they mentioned. The scientific evidence for health benefits of probiotics against these diseases was then examined for scientific rigor.”
They published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.