In a First, Study Demonstrates Effectiveness of a Probiotic Strain in Preventing Disease

Friday, August 18, 2017

Probiotics like Lactobacillus have become common supplements, consumed either in pill form or in food. Despite their popularity, however, scientific evidence of probiotic benefits has been scarce. Now, according to an article in The Atlantic, a team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has released the results of a large clinical trial demonstrating that babies given a combination of the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum and sugar "had a significantly lower risk of developing sepsis — a life-threatening condition where infections trigger body-wide inflammation, restricted blood flow, and organ failure." The team, led by Prof. Pinaki Panigrahi, took the novel approach of identifying probiotic strains that actually thrive in the human gut; previously, studies have focused on those that are easy to grow and manufacture. The study may be the first to credibly demonstrate a benefit that had, until now, been theoretically possible but unproven. The lack of hard evidence has left most scientists skeptical of the probiotics craze — for example, Prof. Alexander Khoruts of the University of Minnesota's Microbiota Therapeutics Program has stated his belief that, until further tested, they're a waste of money; see his Consortium-sponsored talk on the evolving human microbiome here. Since this large-scale study shows compelling results, it could mark the beginning of a new era in probiotic therapies.