Probiotics are widely available and increasingly popular as "alternative" or "natural" approaches to treatment and prevention of disease. When considering the use of probiotics, it’s important to think about what a probiotic really is. A widely used (and my favourite) definition is:
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when given in adequate doses, provide health effects beyond that of their inherent nutritional value.
It’s a great definition and has some key points to consider:
- Live microorganisms must be present. That’s not always the case with commercial products.
- An adequate dose must be present. Some commercial products have very low levels of viable microorganisms. We have limited information about the required doses, and these would vary between bacterial species and animals species, but the low levels present in some veterinary probiotics are a major limitation.
- There must be a health effect. This is the key. If it doesn’t do something beneficial, then it’s not a probiotic.
Which brings me to my "head shaking product of the day": probiotic floor cleaner. Yes, floor cleaner. And it has a nice warm-and-fuzzy name: Peace of Mind Floor Cleaner.
According to the manufacturer, it reduces the risk of infection (infection of what, by what and how, are completely unclear). It also allegedly "keeps protecting surfaces for up to 3 days by leaving a long-lasting layer of beneficial probiotics that create a safe, stable and odor free environment. Don’t let your floors make you crazy."
I didn’t realize that floors were the cause of such angst and that covering them with probiotics can improve your life (hopefully the sarcasm is apparent).
What does this have to do with probiotics for treatment or prevention of disease in animals? Not a lot. But it shows how easily people can throw around the word "probiotic" as a marketing tool. Floor cleaners can’t be probiotics since they aren’t ingested and don’t have health effects. However, the same type of scrutiny needs to be applied to any probiotic that you are considering using.
- Demand evidence of a health effect (real evidence, not just testimonials).
- Demand information about the recommended dosing.
- Find out what specific bacteria are being used.
- Don’t stop thinking once you read "probiotic." On the contrary, when you read "probiotic" you should start thinking and asking questions.