CRN responds to 60 Minutes’ segment on probiotics

July 1, 2020

The Council for Responsbile Nutrition has issued a response to 60 Minutes segment on probiotics.

On June 28, 2020, 60 Minutes released a segment on probiotics, “Do Probiotics Actually Do Anything?” Jon LaPook, MD opened the segment with a discussion about the gut microbiome with Jeff Gordon, MD at Washington University in St. Louis, who is said to be the father of the microbiome. Gordon discussed what the microbiome is, and what’s it made of. As new research discoveries continue to reveal the microbiome’s larger role in overall health, Gordon said doctors are already treating illness by manipulating gut bacteria.

Unfortunately, probiotics, which are designed to support the gut microbiome, subsequently went under questioning— “But do probiotics actually do anything?” LoPook asked. Several medical experts weighed in on the science behind probiotics and their ability to impact health.

Patricia Hibberd, MD, PhD, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of medicine at Boston University, said there isn’t enough high-quality research to recommend off-the-shelf probiotics for the medical problems they tout to support. Further, two professors from Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, said, “We found that the probiotics actually delayed the restoration of the bacteria of those individuals to what they had before as compared to individuals who took antibiotics and then did nothing.”

In response to the segment on probiotics, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC), the leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry, issued the following statement from Andrea Wong, PhD, senior vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs, CRN:

“The vigorous body of scientific research exploring the benefits of probiotics is providing increased understanding of the role probiotics play, not only for digestive health, but for immune function, brain health, and even bone health. Probiotic use is supported both by a long history of safe use and rigorous clinical trials, and CRN underscores those beneficial effects and the safety of these products. But unfortunately, the recent news segment highlights the developing nature of the science and the lack of scientific certainty with regard to their beneficial health effects, pitting one scientist’s view against another’s and leaving viewers confused about the category.

“The segment does not feature any new research and only highlights previously published scientific studies, each with their own limitations. For example, one of the featured studies reviewed the effects of a specific combination of probiotic strains on how they modify the microbiome of the host, but did not measure important clinical endpoints, like the prevention of diarrhea after taking antibiotics.

“Further, the segment questions the safety of probiotics and criticizes the regulation of these products. The safety of probiotics is well-established through their long history of use and safety studies. Moreover, probiotic products marketed as dietary supplements are subject to comprehensive dietary supplement regulations that include current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), testing procedures, labeling and storage requirements, and other practices enforced by regulatory agencies at both the federal and state levels. Many of the clinical endpoints questioned in the news segment involve treatment of serious diseases and medical conditions that are far beyond the purview of dietary supplements without refuting their beneficial effects for maintaining a healthy gut.

“Probiotics have been shown to support good health and continue to be a growing category with consumers. Their repeated purchases and positive consumer outcomes undercut the reporter’s supposition that benefits can be attributed to a placebo effect. This segment and its featured research reinforce that probiotics work through a variety of mechanisms beyond changing the composition of the microbiome, and we encourage more research into the benefits and safety of this category. CRN reminds consumers to consult their healthcare providers if they have questions about the probiotic supplements they are taking or thinking about taking in the future.”