The pitfalls of googling for health information on probiotics

Web Log: Study shows why information on probiotics should be taken with pinch of salt

When googling about tummy ailments, it might be wise to take probiotic information with a pinch of salt, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Medicine. Photograph: Getty Images

When googling about tummy ailments, it might be wise to take probiotic information with a pinch of salt, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Medicine. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The beneficial effects of probiotics have been linked to everything from easing irritable bowel disease to boosting mental health, but it can seem like a minefield when searching the web for accurate information on these gut-dwelling microorganisms. When googling about tummy ailments, it might be wise to take probiotic information with a pinch of salt, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Medicine.

“Most webpages with information on probiotics are from commercial sources or news outlets but these provide the least complete information, in terms of not discussing potential side effects or regulatory issues,” said study author Prof Pietro Ghezzi, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK.

Diseases

“We also find many websites allude to benefits of probiotics in diseases for which there is not much high-level scientific evidence, other than in mice,” he added.

The study evaluated 150 websites returned in a Google search for “probiotics” and evaluated them on four criteria: 1) links to scientific references supporting health claims, 2) cautionary notes about level of evidence for alleged benefits, 3) safety considerations, and 4) regulatory status.

It was found that only 10 percent of webpages met all four criteria, 40 per cent provided a cautionary note on benefits, 35 per cent referenced scientific literature, and a mere 25 per cent mentioned potential side effects.

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