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Online Information About Probiotics Often Unreliable

Most information from commercial sources; only 35 percent of webpages refer to scientific literature

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 15, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Probiotics information available online is often from commercial sources, and most webpages do not refer to scientific literature, according to a study published online Jan. 15 in Frontiers in Medicine.

Marie Neunez, from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Innovation in Healthcare (I³h) in Brussels, and colleagues examined the information quality of webpages referring to probiotics. After searching “probiotics,” 150 webpages returned by Google were evaluated for health information quality based on the JAMA score for overall trustworthiness and the HONcode certification. In addition, completeness of information was assessed based on links to scientific references supporting health claims, cautionary notes about the level of evidence for alleged benefits, safety considerations, and regulatory status.

The researchers found that most websites were commercial (43 percent), followed by news (31 percent); commercial websites had the lowest trustworthiness scores. Only 13 websites displayed the HONcode certification; these websites were significantly more frequent in the top 10 websites compared with the remaining websites. Only 10 percent of all webpages met all four criteria in terms of completeness of information; 40, 35, 25, and 15 percent had a cautionary note on health benefits, referred to scientific literature, mentioned potential side effects, and mentioned regulatory provisions, respectively.

“We conclude that the high level of uncertainty for most health claims found online hinders the rational use of probiotics, leaving the field open to unsubstantiated allegations and misuse,” the authors write.

One author serves as a scientific advisor for Vésale Pharma.

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