The Beneficial Breeding of Bacteria: Probiotics

Articles
June 29, 2009

The Beneficial Breeding of Bacteria: Probiotics

Is the large increase in probiotic sales increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in our guts- or have these live and active ingredients been rendered ineffective by the time they reach our plates? The amount of new and unorthodox products that claim to contain these beneficial colonizers have been increasing at a viral rate, and now probiotics can, not only be found in yogurt, kefir, and miso, but in chocolate bars, cereals, granola bars, and fruit juices as well. In 2007, according to Nutrition Business Journal, the sales of probiotic dietary supplements in the U.S. reached a staggering $366 million, up approximately 24% from the previous year. The various health benefits of probiotics have been repeatedly demonstrated through rigorous clinical trials. They are beneficial in the breakdown and absorption of certain vitamins, production of fatty acids to improve the intestinal barrier, stool regularity, immune function, and possibly lessen the severity of certain allergies. Probiotic research is constantly being updated and the list of possible benefits is impressive. It is important to keep in mind that the benefits are strain and dose-specific. Not all probiotics have demonstrated health benefits and, there is no guarantee that the organisms will be alive or effective at the time of ingestion. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no standard definition or consensus on health claims for probiotics. In 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) defined probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." According to this definition, bacteria that have not been studied can not be considered probiotic. Can this supermarket colonization continue? Are consumers excited about the variety of ways then can get their probiotics – or are they skeptical? We at SupermarketGuru.com believe it is the responsibility of the manufacturer and retailer to make sure that these products are properly tested, labeled and stored to ensure the fact that the organisms actually have a health benefit. The trust in certain brands will only be valuable if the probiotic delivers on its claim.

Is the large increase in probiotic sales increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in our guts- or have these live and active ingredients been rendered ineffective by the time they reach our plates?  The amount of new and unorthodox products that claim to contain these beneficial colonizers have been increasing at a viral rate, and now probiotics can, not only be found in yogurt, kefir, and miso, but in chocolate bars, cereals, granola bars, and fruit juices as well.  In 2007, according to Nutrition Business Journal, the sales of probiotic dietary supplements in the U.S. reached a staggering $366 million, up approximately 24% from the previous year.

The various health benefits of probiotics have been repeatedly demonstrated through rigorous clinical trials.  They are beneficial in the breakdown and absorption of certain vitamins, production of fatty acids to improve the intestinal barrier, stool regularity, immune function, and possibly lessen the severity of certain allergies.  Probiotic research is constantly being updated and the list of possible benefits is impressive.  It is important to keep in mind that the benefits are strain and dose-specific.  Not all probiotics have demonstrated health benefits and, there is no guarantee that the organisms will be alive or effective at the time of ingestion.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no standard definition or consensus on health claims for probiotics.  In 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) defined probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."  According to this definition, bacteria that have not been studied can not be considered probiotic.

Can this supermarket colonization continue? Are consumers excited about the variety of ways then can get their probiotics – or are they skeptical? We at SupermarketGuru.com believe it is the responsibility of the manufacturer and retailer to make sure that these products are properly tested, labeled and stored to ensure the fact that the organisms actually have a health benefit.  The trust in certain brands will only be valuable if the probiotic delivers on its claim.

Attention manufacturers and brands! Stay true to your labeling and quality control; don’t let your customers to think they are getting ripped off (again?).  Beneficial bacteria can benefit your brand as well as the health of your customer.

Some Quick Probiotic Tips:

Check the “best by” or expiration date:
This puts the odds in favor of the effectiveness of the probiotic.

Check for "live and active cultures": All yogurt products DO NOT contain live cultures or probiotics – check for the “live and active” seal on the package – this requires that the product contains at least 108 viable lactic acid bacteria per gram for refrigerated products and 107 for frozen.  Read labels carefully.  Products labeled “made with active cultures” may have gone through a heat treatment that actually kills the beneficial bacteria!

Make sure the probiotics have been clinically tested and proven beneficial.

Dose matters: make sure the product contains at least the amount of probiotic that the tests concluded to benefit health (these will decline if improperly stored, or not consumed by the “best by” date)

Decoding the science: probiotics are defined by their genus, species and strain- e.g. Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.  Keep in mind that many brands that are touting probiotics have actually developed their own “names” for particular strains.  Make sure that the label lists exactly what benefit you will receive from the particular type of bacteria.