Adding to the steaming pile of unsubstantiated hype over probiotics, the New York Times ran an uncritical article … suggesting that a probiotic of heat-killed bacteria can treat obesity.
Of course, the data behind the story does not suggest that. In fact, the study is so small and the data so noisy and indirect, it’s impossible to come to any conclusions about efficacy. There’s also the nit-picky complaint that the study deals with dead bacteria, while probiotics are generally defined as being live bacteria. More importantly, the study was authored by researchers with a clear financial stake in the treatment succeeding. They hold a patent on the treatment and have started a company based on it—two details the New York Times seems to have forgotten to mention.
The premise of probiotics isn’t a crazy one. Generally, the buggy drugs aim to manipulate the multitudes of microbes in our guts to boost health. There’s good reason to think that’s possible.
But the microbiome field is still littered with open questions, and companies and supplement makers have leapt over the holes to make remarkable claims with flimsy studies—and hawk unsubstantiated products.
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