I noticed a headline the other day: ‘Probiotics can kill you‘, that I just could not believe….. and that’s just as well because it turns out that it was distorted and inaccurate.
The background is as follows:
Two hundred and ninety-six patients with acute pancreatitis – a rare and very serious, often fatal disease – had taken part in the study between 2004 and 2007, involving 15 hospitals in the Netherlands. The study was conducted because earlier tests had indicated that probiotics might be able to help reduce the rate of pancreatic infection.
Sadly however twenty-four people died in the study group (those receiving probiotics) compared with nine in the control group (i.e. those not receiving probiotics).
This in itself appeared statistically significant…..BUT…… what emerges from a little further investigation is the fact that these extremely ill people did not receive their friendly bacteria in the normal way, that you and I might, as a liquid or a powder or a capsule….instead the bugs were poured down a tube into the gut.
In a press release the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics stated: “Based upon the information provided in the press release and media reports, post-mortems had ruled out any possibility that the probiotics caused infection, and thus it is not apparent that probiotics played any role in mortality.”
So it seems the researchers had used a relatively inappropriate means of delivery of the probiotics, into very sick people. And so, when a few more of the folk being treated in this way died, compared with those who were not so treated, the results are not too much of a surprise, however the scare-mongering headlines were distinctly inappropriate!
And of course with Holland having a huge dairy industry, it is also no surprise at all that just a few days later new headlines appeared :
Dutch Food Authority says ‘There is no danger in taking probiotic dairy drinks
a spokesperson for the agency said there were lots of healthy people who took probiotics with no adverse effects.
The question is, how many people saw the first headline….. as well as the second?
Another question is how usually benign and beneficial organisms could have negative effects?

I will try to address some possibilities in a future posting.