In a new consensus statement, an international group of researchers reviewed the scientific evidence and concluded that for most strains of well-studied probiotics, the evidence has grown enough to say probiotics support digestive health.

“When you look at findings from a variety of studies on different end points that look at some aspect of digestive health, the combined evidence suggests that digestive health is a core benefit of many probiotic species,” said Mary Ellen Sanders, a food science researcher and consultant who was one of the experts on the panel, as well as executive science officer for the organization that convened the panel.

However, the evidence for whether probiotics have health effects on other systems in the body wasn’t as strong — the scientific findings were either not as convincing or too strain-specific to be considered core benefits of probiotics in general, Sanders said. For example, many studies have shown that different probiotics can impact immune function in different ways. But because the effects of probiotic strains can vary broadly, and immune-system effects are incredibly diverse, the panel decided that an immune-system boost should not be considered a core benefit of probiotics, Sanders said.

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Photo by Stacy Spensley

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