Continuing to build a case for probiotics

by Keith Nunes
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The market for food and beverages featuring pro-biotics is in a grey area. On the one hand, the ingredient technologies are proven and new benefits to managing one’s gut microflora are appearing regularly. On the other hand, regulators, most notably the European Food Safety Authority, have expressed reservations about how manufacturers may make claims regarding the benefits of probiotics.

Klaus Pedersen, chief financial officer of Chr Hansen Holdings, Hoersholm, Denmark, addressed the challenge his company faces in the probiotics market while discussing third-quarter results this past July. He noted that Greek yogurt products have replaced yogurts featuring probiotics as an on-trend market driver.

“… The growth that we’re seeing in the U.S. is still very much driven by the Greek yogurt,” he said. “There’s a slight different mix if you look into who is taking the growth from a producer or dairy point of view, but it is still Greek yogurt that drives the growth.

“And, as you know, both in Europe and to some extent also in the U.S., we are a little more cautious when it comes to the probiotic expectations; in Europe, because of F.S.A. (Food Safety Authority), the regulations being put in place and the difficulty of creating a very broad claim that can be used to really differentiate a yogurt with a probiotic claim. If you consider the difficulty from a statistical point of view in a chemical trial to prove such a broad claim, that is just very difficult.

“That has some, you can say, follow effect in the U.S. at least. The U.S. is looking a little bit to Europe. And, as you probably know, for years the U.S. way of doing claims has been much more balanced because they didn’t really want to — create a situation like in Europe where a regulatory initiative or response was provoked. And we still see that kind of fine balance and very balanced marketing being used on probiotic products in the U.S. So we are not really bullish on the outlook for probiotics in the U.S. either.”

Despite a lack of bullishness, positive health news continues to emerge related to the consumption of products featuring probiotics. For example, eating probiotics regularly may modestly improve blood pressure, according to new research published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension in July.

“The small collection of studies we looked at suggest regular consumption of probiotics can be part of a healthy lifestyle to help reduce high blood pressure, as well as maintain healthy blood pressure levels,” said Jing Sun, Ph.D., lead author and senior lecturer at the Griffith Health Institute and School of Medicine, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. “This includes probiotics in yogurt, fermented and sour milk and cheese, and probiotic supplements.”

Analyzing results of nine studies examining blood pressure and probiotic consumption in 543 adults with normal and elevated blood pressure, the researchers found probiotic consumption lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average 3.56 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by an average 2.38 mm Hg, compared to adults who didn’t consume probiotics. The positive effects from probiotics on diastolic blood pressure were greatest in people whose blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85, which is considered elevated.

But like any research, the devil is in the details. For example, the review showed consuming probiotics for less than eight weeks didn’t lower systolic or diastolic blood pressure. In addition, probiotic consumption with a daily bacteria volume of 109-1012 colony-forming units (c.f.u.) may improve blood pressure. Consumption with less than 109 c.f.u. didn’t lower blood pressure. The research also indicated probiotics with multiple bacteria lowered blood pressure more than those with a single bacteria.

“We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance,” Dr. Sun said.

But, she added, “The studies looking at probiotics and blood pressure tend to be small.”

“Moreover, two studies had a short duration of three to four weeks of probiotic consumption, which might have affected the overall results of the analysis,” she said.

Dr. Sun said more research is going to be necessary before researchers can definitively link the consumption of probiotics to reduced blood pressure.
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