Putting Fad Diets to the Test, Part I

As a father and yogurt fan, Abdul Rauf, Ph.D. in infectious diseases, doesn’t need to be convinced that probiotics can be beneficial. The third-year College of Pharmacy student has a young daughter with food allergies. When he made her homemade yogurt (a natural source of probiotics) sweetened with local honey, he said, “I showed her how yummy it was and she ate it, too!’’

Pharmacy students are people, first, after all. At their annual fad diet presentation, Tuesday, December 11, the third-year students were ready to present their evidence-based research – and to explain it to laymen. Members of the public were welcome to attend the three-hour event held in classrooms of the NEOMED Education and Wellness (NEW) Center. Teams of students set up shop with their poster presentations to talk and answer questions from anyone who stopped by – including faculty, such as Seth Brownlee, Pharm.D., the course director for a pharmacotherapeutics course for third-year pharmacy students.

Additional faculty members for the GI module of the course – including Altaf Darvesh, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and associate professor of psychiatry – circulated to hear the students present their research on various diets and how they compared.

Gutting it out

Petrea Cober, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice, is a NICU pharmacist at Akron Children’s Hospital and teaches parenteral nutrition (providing nutrition through a person’s veins, often called TPN, for total parenteral nutrition) for the GI module of the pharmacotherapeutics course. She observed a session on probiotics by Abdul Rauf and his classmates Neel Patel, Anthony Pesce, Neda Damshekan and Nathan Homan, chiming in during the yogurt discussion that nurses sometimes recommend yogurt (which naturally contains probiotics) for certain babies.

The group found that there are many benefits to providing probiotics for people with digestive issues, but caveats, too. Probiotics can be dangerous for people in a hospital setting who are immunocompromised, it found. Their survey of research also showed that using probiotics to treat Crohn’s disease has been “inconsistent to ineffective.’’

No easy answers, but a little advice: If your stomach is a little upset because you’re taking a course of antibiotics, eating a container of yogurt is a safe choice to restore the balance of flora in your gut. But consumers should note the students’ warning to those who might incorrectly assume that probiotic supplements – or any other dietary supplements – have gone through Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. As the government organization states on its own website, “FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.”

So, if you’re having problems with your gut, see a physician and/or consult a pharmacist before taking any supplements. 

The Pulse will return with Part II of this story, reporting on student analysis of the popular raw food diet.

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