A little news report from last week prompted me to write this mini post. The report (Global probiotics market approaching $30bn by 2015: Report) indicates that the use (and purchase) of probiotics is spreading globally.
I find the whole thing pretty interesting actually. I personally think that at some point we will be able to figure out how to use "good" microbes to manipulate and manage human health and performance in all sorts of ways. And there is more and more evidence that in some cases probiotics can have positive effects. So in a way it is not surprising that more and more people are buying and using probiotics.
On the other hand, the evidence showing that probiotics are actually beneficial is still limited. I note, this is why I have started giving out an "Overselling the microbiome and probiotics award" here. So far, the best simple site I have found discussing probiotics is from NCCAM - the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This may come as a surprise to some (as it did to me), since NCCAM has been severely criticized by many for its support of pseudoscience (e.g., see here). I note I am not even remotely trying to defend much of what NCCAM does here. I am simply pointing out that they have a decent resource on probiotics.
For more on the science of probiotics see "Probiotic Microbes: The Scientific Basis" from ASM. The report references above clearly seems to overstate the potential of probiotics by suggesting that they are being targeted for use in all sorts of health situations without presenting the caveats that these health benefits are not that well established.
Anyway, given that the evidence for benefits of probiotics is still pretty sparse, the fact that their use is spreading very rapidly is I guess a little bit disconcerting. I would be willing to wager that a lot of the spread has to do with deceptive marketing practices by probiotic suppliers. But there is a silver lining to this. I think over the next few years we will see many new discoveries relating to where and when probiotics can help people and animals and such. And the fact that the notion of "good microbes" is spreading is a good thing since we certainly need to reduce the "kill all microbes" mentality that has pervaded in some circles (consider the use of antibiotics in all sorts of materials).
Anyway, just a little post here about the spread of probiotic purchasing. One thing I will end with - the report referenced above mentions that probiotics are being put into all sorts of new foods including "chocolates, cheese, muffins, and sausages".