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About SickKids

November 21, 2013

The results from Café Scientifique are in: Probiotics may have health benefits for all

More  research is needed on the hows and whys

By: Anne Coffey

Probiotics were a hot topic of discussion at SickKids’ latest Café Scientifique on Tuesday, Nov.19 at the Hard Rock Café. Interested members of the public and SickKids’ staff and friends came to learn more about the power of probiotics to improve their health and receive up-to-date information straight from SickKids scientists who are working on this very subject matter. SickKids hosted the free event with a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).

The moderator kicked off the night by introducing the SickKids’ panel of scientists and inviting patient advocate Jennie Jennings from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada who shared her experience living with Crohn’s and how probiotics fit into her treatment. Each member of the expert panel including Dr. Nicola Jones and Dr. Philip Sherman, Senior Scientists and Gastroenterologists; and Dr. Bradley Johnston, Scientist and Clinical Epidemiologist shared their own information about probiotics.

Jones defined probiotics and explained how they work. Sherman talked about the availability and use of probiotics in Canada, and Johnston closed by showcasing research that looks at the use of probiotics to prevent antibiotic and C. difficile associated diarrhea in hospitalized patients.

After a short break, the panel took questions from the audience. It was clear from the number of questions that the scientists had piqued the interest of many. The scientists were kept on their toes in the Q & A section. “I never know what kinds of questions I’m going to get from the audience,” said Sherman, “I really try to make sure that I’m relaying the scientific information clearly to people and giving them the important information that they are seeking answers to.”

“My thrill of the evening was finding out that one of the scientist’s buys the same brand of yogurt that I do!” said Erin, one audience member, “That made me feel pretty great.”

Apart from learning what kind of yogurt the experts have in their fridge, there was a lot of useful information presented, such as, the use of probiotics in keeping our gut healthy, blocking harmful bacteria, and potentially changing our immune system for the better. It was explained that probiotics may also be able to improve metabolism. The audience also learned that while the benefits of some probiotic agents are clear, more research is still required to understand dose, what kinds of probiotics work best for various ailments, and how they should be used in treatment.

“There are a lot of different ways that probiotics can work, but they are not all created equal,” warned Jones. “Choice and concentration is important,” echoed Sherman. However, as Johnston explained, the benefits of probiotics are presently being discovered.

Café Scientifique pulls science away from its usual habitats of the classroom and the laboratory, and into cafés and other casual settings demystifying new scientific advances and opening them up for public debate. Watch out for our next Café.