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BMJ. 2007 September 1; 335(7617): 414.
PMCID: PMC1962889
Probiotics in Children

All nutritional supplements should be classified as drugs

Paula J Whittaker, specialist registrar, public health

The study by Canani et al concluded that probiotics should be classified as drugs, and doctors should select preparations for which evidence of efficacy, in a given clinical condition, is supported by solid data.1

All nutritional supplements that are sold on the basis of their health promoting properties should be classified as drugs, and they should have to undergo the same rigorous process as pharmaceutical drugs to establish their efficacy and safety before they are placed on the market. The global market for probiotics and supplements continues to grow, and a growing number of “nutritionists” and nutritional supplements are trying to cash in. Consumers deserve to have accurate information about the efficacy and potential side effects of these products in the same way that they do for other over the counter drugs. If these substances were classified as drugs, doctors could then prescribe them on the NHS for their specific indication supported by good evidence. There are a few randomised controlled trials of the effectiveness of specific probiotics for certain diagnoses, and for most so called probiotics there is only weak or no evidence of their effectiveness. Classifying such substances as drugs would also make the label “probiotic” meaningful as a substance with proved health benefit and prevent ineffective preparations cashing in by association.

Notes

Competing interests: None declared.

References

Canani RB, Cirillo P, TerrinG, Cesarano L, Spagnuolo MI, de Vincenzo A, et al. Probiotics for treatment of acute diarrhoea in children: randomised clinical trial of five different preparations. BMJ 2007;335:340-2. (18 August.) [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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