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Open Access Correspondence

An analysis of online messages about probiotics

Margaret A Brinich1, Mary Beth Mercer1 and Richard R Sharp12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioethics, Cleveland Clinic, 9500 Euclid, Ave., JJ60, Cleveland, OH, 44195, USA

2 Center for Genetic Research Ethics & Law, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, 44106, USA

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BMC Gastroenterology 2013, 13:5  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-13-5

Published: 11 January 2013

Abstract

Internet websites are a resource for patients seeking information about probiotics. We examined a sample of 71 websites presenting probiotic information. We found that descriptions of benefits far outnumbered descriptions of risks and commercial websites presented significantly fewer risks than noncommercial websites. The bias towards the presentation of therapeutic benefits in online content suggests that patients are likely interested in using probiotics and may have unrealistic expectations for therapeutic benefit. Gastroenterologists may find it useful to initiate conversations about probiotics within the context of a comprehensive health management plan and should seek to establish realistic therapeutic expectations with their patients.

Keywords:
Probiotics; Doctor-patient communication; Complementary and alternative medicine; Ethics