probiotics, how much woo?

It’s now a fairly well established agricultural practice to feed targeted probiotics to livestock as a way to both prevent and combat various intestinal bacterial infections – both ruminants and monogastric animals like pigs. Salmonella, e.coli, listeria are the usual culprits.

At least in hobby farming (which is disproportionately practiced by the gullible, it seems to me), probiotics are also given in cases of almost any kind of stress such as shipping, injury, or sickness, especially if antibiotics are being administered. I do it myself because, you know, what is the downside?

Apparently I am late to the party because recently I’ve been – harangued is not too violent a word – by several people who feel that probiotics address all sorts of human ills caused by (poor general immunity due to the feeding of antibiotics to livestock)(the host of intestinal disorders like gluten allergies etc. now so popular)(autism, ADD, cancer, leprosy).

I’m prepared to believe some of it, since there is fairly good data on animals (reducing mortality in newborn pigs, etc), but anyone have any studies on how much of it has a basis in the reality type world of human medicine?

Mostly woo. Useful in some very particular circumstances, like during antibiotic treatment, but under most circumstances it is the ecosystem that matters more, both within us and around us. The bacteria in a supplement is a drop in an ocean of organisms. Better to create the environment in which a diverse population of bacteria can thrive by eating lots of fiber and avoiding antibiotics when possible.

So, why does it work for animals? Is it combatting the antibiotics they are already being given?

Antibiotics kill off the benign and beneficial bacteria in an intestinal tract as well as the illness causing ones. This can be particularly serious in animals that require certain bacteria to help digest their food. The other problem is when an intestinal tract is rendered bare of bacteria and it recolonizes with bad bacteria first, inducing another illness.

After my bought with norovirus in 2005 I was given probiotics by my doctor to replenish the beneficial and benign bacteria in my intestines as part of my treatment, but it’s not really needed for most people.

It’s not entirely woo, it has a legitimate role in medicine, but it’s not a cure-all. THAT is the woo part, that you can someone cure a lot of ills with this stuff. It’s not going to cure a gluten allergy, autism, etc.

Well I am no expert on what it does and does not do in animals. Is there evidence that it prevents asthma, allergies, or autoimmune diseases? Or is it used in the contexts mentioned by Broomstick - either before a normal biota from mother’s milk can be established (piglets under stress) or in the context of antibiotic administration?

There is zero payoff in nursing livestock with serious allergies, chronic breathing difficulties, or autoimmune disorders; even if intended to be high-value breeding stock they’d move themselves into the cull class by exhibiting any signs of a disorder that could have a genetic component. So, no data most likely. Dogs and horses, there could be data because people have emotional investment in them and pay great sums to keep them healthy. But I’m guessing . . . no.

As for Broomstick’s contexts, I believe both, and also as an ongoing dietary supplement, especially for ruminants in lactation, which is a lot of stress on an animal. Remember that a lot of commercial growers keep all their animals on constant low dosage antibiotics. So perhaps it is merely an antidote so to speak.

Sorry. But what is woo?

Woo is an abbreviation of woo-woo, unfounded and usually ridiculous beliefs. Often but not necessarily associated with New Agers (auras, high colonics, native american birthing songs). But woo transcends politics. There are lots of conservative persons with strong attachments to much the same woo.

Is this abbreviation a straighdopism?

My main trouble with woo is its capacity to occlude perfectly useful but more modest findings, such as, perhaps, that probiotics are effective for certain defined uses.

More of a contraction, really… an abbreviation would be “WW”.

I’ve never heard it until now. So Native American Birthing songs don’t really exist? :slight_smile:

Oh, well that explains it then. :smiley:

No, I first came across it years ago at scienceblogs. Orac, who still blogs there, and is a staunch critic of woo, has been using the word for a long time.

Woo is definitely not a straightdope-ism (like 1920’s style death ray). There’s an article on it in rational wiki.

Almost anything you would see on an episode of Bullshit, for example, would be woo. Faith healers. Crystal healing. Anti-vaccers.

This would be classified under the woo subcategory 12B: Noble Savage.

I just threw that in there out of a longstanding irritation with the Natural Healing Community. When I was pregnant my prenatal yoga teacher used to have us gather in a circle and sing them. They were just nonsense syllables, about as authentic as children’s camp songs, but to her they were sacred. I have no idea if any Precolumbian cultures had traditional birthing songs.

I was given a script for probiotics by an immunologist (I’m heavily allergic to various molds). She seemed like a sensible physician otherwise, but it even sounded like woo when she explained it. So, I have no food allergies, but you want to modify my gut flora to deal with… asthma?

One issue is that “probiotic” is such a broad and ill-defined term. If you have vitamin C deficiency, it’s hardly useful to say that you should eat “food” to treat your disease.

IIRC there are a number of studies showing that certain specific probiotic treatments can treat certain GI diseases, particularly after infections or antibiotic treatments. There are hardly any studies demonstrating that the exact bottle of “probiotics” you bought from your local pharmacy is good for you in any way. Perhaps it is, but the effects are certainly more limited than the label on the bottle would have you believe.

It’s not entirely crazy, but on the other hand there is not any solid clinical evidence that probiotics will treat your asthma. So far there is emerging basic research that shows a relationship between gut bacteria, local interactions with the immune system in the gut, and global regulation of immune system development and function.

My understanding (from cursory knowledge of a handful of studies) is that the connection between gut bacteria and asthma is established early in life. Giving an adult probiotics is probably not going to do anything. Perhaps giving infants a very specific probiotic will prevent asthma. But we don’t know that yet, so we have to wait a decade or two for the basic and clinical science to give us an answer.

The lady who prompted my OP was of the belief that the common lack of the proper intestinal flora had been decisively linked to autism and learning disorders.

Give Mary Roach’s Gulp a read. She talks about the flora in the large intestine and the role they play in health and maintenance. As I recall, many of these bacterial are anaerobic, so if you’re taking a pill or powder through the mouth, they will probably have zero effect. What is interesting and potentially non-woo is the “fecal transplant,” which means pretty much what it sounds like.

Evidence is growing to back the fact that the majority of the results in weight loss surgery are due to a drastic change in intestinal flora.

Yep, I’ve read some interesting papers on the efficacy of fecal transplants. Although much/most of the “probiotic” talk is woo, fecal microbiota transplantation is real, if disgusting to imagine.

I first heard “woo woo” (as a synonym for “new age”) about 20 years ago. For whatever that’s worth.

Not to mention much farther back for “woo woo indian” as opposed to “India indian from India.”