Perspective

Fundamental limitations of the randomized controlled trial method in nutritional research: The example of probiotics

Dennis Zeilstra*, Jessica A. Younes, Robert J. Brummer, Michiel Kleerebezem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Studies on the relation between health and nutrition are often inconclusive. There are concerns about the validity of many research findings, and methods that can deliver high-quality evidence-such as the randomized controlled trial (RCT) method-have been embraced by nutritional researchers. Unfortunately, many nutritional RCTs also yield ambiguous results. It has been argued that RCTs are ill-suited for certain settings, including nutritional research. In this perspective, we investigate whether there are fundamental limitations of the RCT method in nutritional research. To this end, and to limit the scope, we use probiotic studies as an example. We use an epistemological approach and evaluate the presuppositions that underlie the RCT method. Three general presuppositions are identified and discussed. We evaluate whether these presuppositions can be considered true in probiotic RCTs, which appears not always to be the case. This perspective concludes by exploring several alternative study methods that may be considered for future probiotic or nutritional intervention trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-571
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Volume9
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018

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Probiotics
probiotics
Randomized Controlled Trials
Research
methodology
nutritional intervention
researchers
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nutrition
Health

Keywords

  • Nutrition
  • Probiotics
  • RCT limitations
  • Study design

Cite this

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title = "Perspective: Fundamental limitations of the randomized controlled trial method in nutritional research: The example of probiotics",
abstract = "Studies on the relation between health and nutrition are often inconclusive. There are concerns about the validity of many research findings, and methods that can deliver high-quality evidence-such as the randomized controlled trial (RCT) method-have been embraced by nutritional researchers. Unfortunately, many nutritional RCTs also yield ambiguous results. It has been argued that RCTs are ill-suited for certain settings, including nutritional research. In this perspective, we investigate whether there are fundamental limitations of the RCT method in nutritional research. To this end, and to limit the scope, we use probiotic studies as an example. We use an epistemological approach and evaluate the presuppositions that underlie the RCT method. Three general presuppositions are identified and discussed. We evaluate whether these presuppositions can be considered true in probiotic RCTs, which appears not always to be the case. This perspective concludes by exploring several alternative study methods that may be considered for future probiotic or nutritional intervention trials.",
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Perspective : Fundamental limitations of the randomized controlled trial method in nutritional research: The example of probiotics. / Zeilstra, Dennis; Younes, Jessica A.; Brummer, Robert J.; Kleerebezem, Michiel.

In: Advances in Nutrition, Vol. 9, No. 5, 09.2018, p. 561-571.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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AU - Younes, Jessica A.

AU - Brummer, Robert J.

AU - Kleerebezem, Michiel

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AB - Studies on the relation between health and nutrition are often inconclusive. There are concerns about the validity of many research findings, and methods that can deliver high-quality evidence-such as the randomized controlled trial (RCT) method-have been embraced by nutritional researchers. Unfortunately, many nutritional RCTs also yield ambiguous results. It has been argued that RCTs are ill-suited for certain settings, including nutritional research. In this perspective, we investigate whether there are fundamental limitations of the RCT method in nutritional research. To this end, and to limit the scope, we use probiotic studies as an example. We use an epistemological approach and evaluate the presuppositions that underlie the RCT method. Three general presuppositions are identified and discussed. We evaluate whether these presuppositions can be considered true in probiotic RCTs, which appears not always to be the case. This perspective concludes by exploring several alternative study methods that may be considered for future probiotic or nutritional intervention trials.

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