Yogurt Bacteria Supplements Often Duds, Dangerous
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Health) - An analysis of 20 Lactobacillus supplements sold in Seattle stores reveals that only a fraction actually contained the live organism, which is a beneficial bacteria commonly found in yogurt.
“We found that they were often not at all what they said they were, or that they were contaminated with organisms that could act as pathogens in susceptible people,” Dr. Sheryl Berman of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington told Reuters Health.
Specifically, Berman and co-author Diane Spicer found that 16 of the 20 samples of the supplements contained ingredients that were not listed on the label, and 6 samples included an organism that could cause people to fall ill. For instance, the researchers found bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness and, importantly, are often found to be resistant to antibiotics.
“So we may be introducing a bug into somebody that could lead to antibiotic resistance in that patient,” Berman warned.
Berman and Spicer presented their findings here Monday during the 130th Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (news - web sites).
Lactobacilli are beneficial bacteria that live in the body, generally in the mouth, intestinal tract and vagina. People often take Lactobacillus supplements after being on antibiotics, which can wipe out this natural bacteria. Women who take antibiotics often lose their normal, healthy vaginal bacteria, and take Lactobacillus supplements to restore that balance.
However, Berman and Spicer discovered that some types of supplements may have no benefit at all. In an interview with Reuters Health, Berman said that she and Spicer found that 4 out of the 20 supplements tested contained dead organisms, although Lactobacillus needs to be alive in order to work.
“It means that the organisms were in there, but they’re dead,” Berman said. “So people are meaning to get live organisms, and they’re dead.”
The authors cautioned that the mistakes identified in these samples could have occurred at any point in the manufacturing process. Consequently, although brands tested in the study were manufactured by national companies, because the products were bought in Seattle, it is impossible to say if the findings apply to all Lactobacillus supplements sold throughout the US.
Berman noted that she suspected the problem stems from a lack of quality control of the over-the-counter dietary supplements, which are not subject to the same safety and effectiveness standards that medications face.
“They may put organisms in, but they don’t check along the way that the organisms are, first of all, what they think they are, and that there’s no contamination at every step–and that’s what good quality control is,” she said.