Possible opportunity in immunity

by Jeff Gelski
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A study appearing on-line Sept. 7 in the British Journal of Nutrition joins a growing list of research focusing on the immunity benefits of probiotic strains. As is the case with digestive health claims, companies looking to promote immunity in marketing foods and beverages with probiotics might be wise to use scientifically tested probiotic strains and to keep claims within reason and away from Food and Drug Administration investigation.

The study involved the probiotic strains BB-12 (Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis) and L. casei 431 (Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei) from Chr. Hansen, Horsholm, Denmark. Research-ers from the Luigi Sacco Hospital in Milan, Italy, and the University of Milan studied 211 healthy adults in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Two probiotic groups consumed either BB-12 in a capsule or L. casei 431 in a dairy drink once daily for six weeks while two other groups consumed a placebo once daily for six weeks.

Data showed supple-mentation with BB-12 or L. casei 431 may be an effective means to improve immune function. In the BB-12 group, 66% had a substantial increase in the specific antibody lgG3 compared to 4% in the placebo group. In the L. casei 431 group, 46% had a substantial increase compared to 2% in the placebo group.

“This new clinical study is part of Chr. Hansen’s comprehensive clinical study program,” said Birgit Michelsen, director of scientific affairs, Health & Nutrition Division, for Chr. Hansen. “The outcomes of this study, as well as data from previous studies on BB-12 and L. casei 431, show that supplementation with these probiotic strains result in a strengthening of various parts of the immune system. This will very likely translate into a clinical benefit, such as reduced rates of infection.”

The digestive health claims of probiotics remain more recognizable. According to the 2011 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey, 81% of Americans associated probiotics with a healthy digestive system. Yet three trials have been published on the immunity benefits of GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086), said Mike Bush, vice-president of business development for Ganeden Biotech, Cleveland.

“Immunity is picking up,” Mr. Bush said. “Some companies are running to it, and some companies are avoiding it.”

Structure-function claims may be safe to make. Peggy Steele, Danisco global business dir-ector, Danisco BioActives in Madison, Wis., gave examples such as “improves immune function” or “supports immune function.” Studies have focused on the immunity benefits of two Danisco probiotic strains: Howaru Bifido (Bifidobacterium lactis HN019) and Howaru Rhamnosus (Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001).

“Foods and beverages should be positioned as healthy and not linking them to a particular disease state,” Ms. Steele said. “Focusing on treating or mitigating a disease state is when products cross the line from being a food to a drug. This tends to be when the F.D.A. steps in.”

Mr. Bush said companies may be able to say the probiotics in their products “support the immune system,” but they should not say the probiotics “relieve symptoms of the flu.”

“All the claims that we make are all around the strain, not necessarily the product they are in,” he said. “We’ve been very, very careful that folks aren’t going crazy with their claims.”

For immunity benefits, 500 million colony forming units (c.f.u.s) of probiotic strains might be needed per serving, Mr. Bush said. For metabolic benefits, it might be 1 billion c.f.u.s per serving.

Ms. Steele said, “I’d like to point out that it’s not just a matter of what type of foods or beverages that these strains might be added to. It’s also important that the recommended amount of probiotics is delivered to the end consumer for the immunity benefits.”

Another immunity study involved the probiotic strain Lafti L10 (Lactobacillus acidophilus L10) from Institut Rosell, a division of Lallemand, Inc., Montreal. Live probiotic strains were given orally to 70 mice once a day for two weeks. Results showed Lafti L10 modulated the immune response in vitro and in vivo.

Joanie Dion, a technical representative for Lallemand-Institut Rosell, said probiotic strains also may affect a person’s mood because of a “brain-gut axis.” A receptor from the brain is connected to the gut, she said. Thus, modifying microflora in the gut may have an impact on the brain.

A study in France involving the brain-gut axis appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Gut Microbes. It demonstrated that Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum RO175 taken in combination for 30 days decreased the global scores of hospital anxiety and depression scale.

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