There’s ample evidence linking long-term use of heartburn or antacid medications to poor digestive health and gut permeability. Also called “leaky gut syndrome,” gut permeability is characterized by tiny holes in the protective barrier of the colon, and can lead to autoimmune diseases and infections.
Gut permeability isn’t the major culprit for the thousands of Zantac lawsuits. However, frequent Zantac users, as well as users of any other over-the-counter or prescription antacid drug should seek to improve gut health. Consuming probiotic foods and supplements are one way to repair gut health.
However, because of a 60 Minutes segment titled “Do Probiotics Actually Do Anything?,” which aired in June, some people who may have considered taking probiotics may have second thoughts. And for those already taking probiotics, it’s possible that the segment influenced people to stop taking probiotics.
The segment was mostly negative about taking probiotics supplements. Consequently, some natural health experts have taken issue with the one-sidedness of the program. For example, Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who advocates for a grain-free diet (especially devoid of modern wheat) on the blog, WheatBelly.org took umbrage with the fact that the segment failed to mention the success of the strain of probiotic, Lactobacillus reuteri.
A member of the lactic acid family, Lactobacillus reuteri, according to Dr. Davis, speeds up the healing process, preserves bone density, and may restore immune function in the elderly by reversing the shrinkage of the thymus gland. (The thymus gland is perhaps the most important organ in the immune system. It’s the site where natural killer T cells mature; the shrinkage of the thymus is partially what makes the elderly vulnerable to viral infections.)
Dr. Davis also criticizes 60 Minutes for excluding a subspecies of the strain, Lactobacillus casei, which is used to make cheese, olives and yogurt. A specific subspecies of this strain, L. casei Shirota, has been documented in three research studies to decrease pneumonia, reduce inflammation, improve immune function, as well as several other health benefits.
There is one thing that Dr. Davis agrees with the segment, and that’s that most probiotics are not of high quality, and thus a waste of money. Still, the best-selling author lists other benefits of probiotics on his paid-membership blog. Davis laments the fact that the segment neglected to mention these strains as well as others.
Dr. Michael Ruscio, a doctor of naturopathic medicine and chiropractor, was more scathing in his article “8 False Claims Minutes Made About Probiotics.” The subtitle of Ruscio’s article: “When ‘Experts’ Misrepresent The Science.”
Ruscio counters claims made by 60 Minutes that probiotics are not effective for: diarrhea; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); and allergies. He provides evidence to the contrary. For instance, for the assertion that probiotics do not help with diarrhea, Ruscio points to this study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which reviewed over 80 studies on antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and concluded, “The pooled evidence suggests that probiotics are associated with a reduction in Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea.”
In a study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion, probiotics was shown to improve symptoms in patients with IBS, including constipation, loose stools, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and food intolerance. This study is a meta-analysis of 20 placebo-controlled clinical trials, involving over 1400 participants.
In addition, Ruscio disputes the claim that the benefits of probiotics are mostly because of the placebo effect. Ruscio refutes as well the claim made that probiotics haven’t been shown to be safe, are not suitable for infants and shouldn’t be taken with antibiotics.
“Contrary to the claims promoted by 60 Minutes and their guests, probiotics have ample evidence and clinical data to support their use for IBS, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, infants and babies, allergies, and during antibiotic therapy,” Ruscio writes on his blog.
Although many probiotic supplements may be of subpar quality, the 60 Minutes segment failed to produce a fair and balanced look at these microorganisms that may help those harmed by Zantac and other antacids.