Survey Reports Probiotics Underuse and Confusion by Patients with Gastrointestinal Conditions

Survey Reports Probiotics Underuse and Confusion by Patients with Gastrointestinal Conditions

The Harris Poll recently conducted an online survey on probiotics revealing that although these products have grown in popularity, a large proportion of adult patients still report confusion regarding which probiotic products to use and the differences between them. The survey was conducted on behalf of VSL#3, a probiotic medicine containing 8 strains of lactic acid bacteria for dietary management, under medical supervision, of patients diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis (UC) and an ileal pouch. The product is developed by Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Harris Poll’s GI Issues Survey was conducted online with answers from 607 adults diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disease or condition, such as IBS, UC and ileal pouch. From this population, 98% have made attempts to manage their symptoms through a variety of strategies: self-made dietary changes (61%), consultations with their healthcare practitioner (HCP; 58%) and/or taking a probiotic product (49%).

While the popularity of probiotics is on the rise, their appearance in the marketplace has also confused consumers, with 54% of patients reporting confusion caused by the sheer number of available products, and 55% reporting they do not know what to look for when choosing a probiotic, including which strain of lactic acid bacteria is more adequate to treat their condition (41%). Despite these statistics, 69% of patients who have used probiotics claim that these products have improved their quality of life.

The survey suggests that HCPs are in part responsible for this lack of education regarding probiotic products. In fact, 71% of the polled patients reported they have discussed probiotics with their HCP, but only 10% stated that the HCP educated them on which probiotic would be more suitable given their specific condition. Furthermore, only 13% of the patients reported that their HCPs clarified that some probiotics may not help in certain gastrointestinal conditions, and only 10% claimed that their HCP suggested a specific strain or brand of probiotics. In total, 24% of the HCPs recommended a dietary or lifestyle changes, and 22% the ingestion of yogurt with live bacteria to help on symptom management.

Gastroenterologist Patricia Raymond, M.D., author and professional speaker, commented on the study’s results and made a few suggestions to patients in a press release, “A probiotic should be chosen based upon the desired outcome and for specific health conditions, such as VSL#3, which has been clinically proven to be beneficial in the dietary management of IBS, UC and ileal pouch. Simply taking any probiotic in a pill or whatever form does not render you healthy. There are numerous published studies, which have proven that different strains of bacteria yield different health benefits. It’s important to be an advocate for yourself when it comes to managing serious gastro conditions, don’t just sit idle. Talk with your doctor and/or your pharmacist and do a little research so you can participate in your plan of care.”

Additional information and highlights from the survey can be found here.

2 comments

  1. Bart says:

    I wasn’t polled but would have also responded with confusion over the use of probiotics. For one thing, the literature is conflicted as to whether the contents of these pills survive stomach acid. One example is a book I am now reading, “The Good Gut” by the Sonnenburgs. They spend a fair amount of time on probiotics without a firm recommendation, and do not mention the stomach acid issue. They are more favorable toward prebiotics.

    I have taken probiotics off and often on for at least five years, and have seen no tangible results for my UC. Three years ago I read an article about an IBD researcher at UNC, Professor Sartor. I wrote to him and he suggested VSL#3. I tried it for several months without any apparent results, even getting a prescription for the highest potency version which I took for about a year.

    A lot of money is spent on these products and it would be nice to know whether they do repopulate unhealthy gut flora.

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