The Unregulated Probiotic Market

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Apr;17(5):809-817. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.01.018. Epub 2018 Mar 14.


Background & aims: This narrative review provides an overview of the current regulation of probiotics, with a focus on those used for the dietary management of medical conditions (Medical Foods).

Findings: The probiotic market has grown rapidly, both for foods and supplements intended to enhance wellness in healthy individuals, and for preparations for the dietary management of disease. Regulation of probiotics varies between regions. Unless they make specific disease-related health claims, probiotics are regulated as food supplements and regulation is focused on the legitimacy of any claims, rather than efficacy, safety and quality. Many properties of probiotics are strain-specific, and safety and efficacy findings associated to specific formulations should not be generalized to other probiotic products. Manufacturing processes, conditions and ingredients are important determinants of product characteristics and changes to manufacturing are likely to give rise to a product not identical to the "original" in efficacy and safety if proper measures and controls are not taken. Current trademark law and the lack of stringent regulation of probiotic manufacturing mean that the trademark owner can commercialize any formulation under the same brand, even if significantly different from the original. These regulatory deficits may have serious consequences for patients where probiotics are used as part of clinical guideline-recommended management of serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases, and may make doctors liable for prescribing a formulation not previously tested for safety and efficacy.

Conclusions: Current regulation of probiotics is inadequate to protect consumers and doctors, especially when probiotics are aimed at the dietary management of serious conditions.

Keywords: Inflammatory Bowel Disease; Manufacturing; Probiotics; Regulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet Therapy / methods*
  • Diet Therapy / standards*
  • Dietary Supplements / standards*
  • Drug and Narcotic Control*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage*
  • Probiotics / standards*