Probiotic validation evolves

by Jeff Gelski
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Beneficial microbes such as probiotics have some evolving to do.

"Right now it’s relatively primitive," said Dr. Gregor Reid, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.

Scientists over the next 10 to 20 years may find more individualized options for probiotic strains, such as which ones work better in older people and which ones in younger people, which ones are better for you in the winter and which ones in the summer, Dr. Reid said.

The quality of scientific studies already has improved over the past couple of years and featured more double-blind studies, said Peggy Steele, global business director for Danisco. Studies soon may become more specific. Several have shown how probiotic strains may improve digestive health, and future studies probably will further examine other digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (I.B.S.), she said. Daniscohas clinical studies in the pipeline on how its probiotic strains may affect allergies and cold and flu symptoms.

For now, Dr. Reid would like to see food and beverage companies improve how they validate and promote the health benefits of products with acclaimed probiotics, or "healthy" bacteria. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as "live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."

Dr. Reid said, "It’s not something you just add to chocolate and say, ‘Now it’s a probiotic.’"

Scientific studies should prove the effects of a specific genus, species and strain in a specific food or beverage, he said. If a Lactobacillus strain shows an effect on immunity when added to yogurt, it does not guarantee the strain will have the same effect in other foods or beverages, Dr. Reid said.

"Lactobacillus acidophilus doesn’t mean anything," he said. "You have to say which strain and do studies on that strain. Ninety per cent of the companies have not done that."

Companies should be able to identify their probiotic strains before and at the end of shelf life, Dr. Reid said. They should be able to differentiate the strains from other bacteria.

Dr. Reid and his colleagues at the University of Western Ontario recently authored a research study called "Growth and survival of Lactobacillus retueri RC-14 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 in yogurt for use as a functional food." The study’s report appeared on-line in Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies.

Dr. Reid said Dannon has done a good job promoting how its Activia yogurt with probiotics improves regularity and digestion transit time.

"They can measure that and have published it," he said.

Dannon has given Activia’s probiotic strain a brand name in Bifidus Regularis. The scientific name includes a genus (Bifidobacterium), a species (animalis) and a strain (DN-173 010). A company web site references 25 studies relating to Activia. For example, one 2003 study is called "Recent advance in the use of functional foods: Effect of the commercial fermented milk with Bifidobacterium animalis strain DN-173 010 and yogurt strains on gut transit time in the elderly."

Danisco has documentation on its three probiotic strains, Ms. Steele said. The company may point to about 75 studies on Howaru Dophilus (Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM). Other studies focus on Howaru Bifido (Bifidobacterium lactis HN019) and Howaru Rhamnosus (Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001). While the studies examine how the probiotic strains survive, such as in the digestive system, food manufacturers would need to study the stability of the strains in each specific food or beverage application, she said.

A Danisco study published this year in the British Journal of Nutrition examined the beneficial effects of combining Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM with lactitol, a polyol or sugar alcohol used as a bulk sweetener. Healthy elderly subjects over a two-week period randomly consumed twice daily either a placebo (sucrose) or a combination of lactitol and the probiotic strain. The results suggest that consuming lactitol and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM improve some markers of the intestinal microbiota composition and mucosal functions.

A new technology, called optical mapping from OpGen Inc., Gaithersburg, Md., allows companies to guarantee the integrity of the bacterial elements, including probiotic strains, in their products, said Neal Doheny, president and chief executive officer of the DNA molecular diagnostics company.

"Our role is to characterize the bacterial element that is part of the production and the product," he said. "The actual study of what it does to the consumer doesn’t involve our technology."

The technology also may verify whether or not a company’s proprietary probiotic strains are in another company’s products, he said.

Sales of food or beverages with probiotics reached $1.5 billion for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 9, 2008, up nearly 37% from $1.1 billion in the previous 52-week period, according to The Nielsen Co., New York. The sales covered U.S. food, drug and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark. Nielsen statistics on U.S. yogurt sales for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 29, 2008, show refrigerated probiotic yogurt broke the $1 billion barrier, coming in at $1.05 billion, almost a 30% increase over the previous 52-week period.

"It’s not a fad," Dr. Reid said. "You and I would be dead if we didn’t have probiotics. They are integral to digestion, to immunity, to our whole life."

Probiotics find a place in fruit drink

The GoodBelly probiotic fruit drink line launched in 2008 by NextFoods, Boulder, Colo., had reached distribution in nearly 4,000 stores nationwide by early January. The Los Angeles Examiner included GoodBelly among its list of top 10 best food product introductions in 2008.

The line includes GoodBelly, a fruit beverage, and GoodBelly Multi, a beverage featuring both probiotics and vitamins. The beverage features the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (Lp299v).

"The company has rigorously tested and guarantees the shelf life of its products’ probiotics cultures up until the date stamped on the product," said NextFoods.

Fifteen years of research and 12 clinical studies have shown that Lp299v supports good digestion and strengthens immunity, according to NextFoods.

"Numerous clinical tests were conducted with Lp299v and showed colonization of the intestinal tract as well as digestive and other health benefits," NextFoods said.

Several studies involved ProViva, a fruit drink, yogurt and recovery drink produced and marketed by Skane Dairy, a Swedish company. The active component in ProViva is a lactic acid fermented oatmeal gruel that has been fermented with Lp299v supplied by Probi AB, a Swedish biotech company that develops and patents probiotic strains for use in nutritional products.

Two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, one in Poland published in 2001 and one in Sweden, published in 2000, focused on giving ProViva with Lp299v to patients with irritable bowel syndrome. In the Polish study, the magnitude of several of the irritable bowl syndrome symptoms decreased in the group taking ProViva, and a higher proportion of the patients were cured from their symptoms in the ProViva group than in the placebo. In the Swedish study, ProViva consumption significantly decreased bloating.

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