The advantages of probiotics are expanding as recent scientific evidence suggests heart-health benefits from the micoroganisms as well as additional gut-health benefits.

A recent study conducted in Montreal by researchers at McGill University and presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012 suggested probiotics may help lower cholesterol. The study tracked 127 adults for nine weeks and found a 12% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL – often referred to as bad cholesterol) and 9% reduction in total cholesterol among those participants who took a probiotic twice a day versus those who took a placebo. Specifically, the probiotic reduced molecules known as cholesterol ester saturated fatty acids, which have been linked to plaque buildup in arteries. Additionally, the probiotic worked at doses of just 200 mg per day, which is lower than doses of soluble fiber or other natural fiber products used to reduce cholesterol.

DuPont Nutrition & Health manufactures and markets the Howaru Restore probiotic formulation that is said to lower the risk of antibiotic-associated gastrointestinal symptoms. The formulation has been found effective in reducing the impact of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in patients under antibiotic therapy. The benefits include a significant reduction in the number of episodes of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, a reduction in the duration of diarrhea and the number of liquid stools, and a reduction of diarrhea-associated symptoms such as fever, bloating and abdominal pain.

Other recent innovations in probiotic supplements have centered on new brands, new strains and alternate forms, said Michael Petschek, marketing director at i-Health, Inc., a division of Royal DSM, Heerlen, The Netherlands. Some new forms being introduced include easy-to-consume gummies and chewable tablets.

“The growth of probiotics has come from strong consumer interest in the digestive and immune health benefits of these micro-organisms,” Mr. Petschek said.

Manufacturers of probiotic supplements also have generated consumer interest by applying marketing support toward probiotic brands. Category advertising levels in 2011 doubled to $85 million, Mr. Petschek said.

Innova Market Insights analyst Natalie Tremellen said probiotics now are being applied in markets such as juice and juice beverages, cheese, ice cream, breakfast cereals, cereal and energy bars, chilled desserts, baby food, and bread and bread products.

In efforts to expand product categories containing probiotics, Orlando Baking Co. has a True Grains line of bread with probiotics. The line includes honey wheat and Seed’licious varieties. KeVita Inc., Los Angeles, sells a line of certified organic probiotic drinks in coconut, mango coconut, strawberry acai coconut, pomegranate coconut, lemon ginger, pomegranate, living greens and pomegranate black tea varieties. In addition, Ilios Greek Yogurt Butter recently launched in the United States as a butter made with traditionally strained Greek yogurt and 25% less fat and 30% less calories.

Ganeden Biotech has partnered with its supplier, Glanbia Nutritionals, to expand the GanedenBC30 shelf-stable probiotics strain to more than 50 foods and beverages in various product categories. GanedenBC30 is shelf-stable, requires no refrigeration and may be baked, boiled or frozen while retaining viability, allowing for use in a variety of applications. The product has a hardened spore inside each cell that acts as a natural protective shield against the heat and pressure of manufacturing and the strong acids in the stomach, allowing it to arrive alive in the intestines. The product also entered the sports nutrition market earlier this year and now is featured in various products. Probiotics may be helpful in sports nutrition as the stress of exercise and large amounts of protein may cause immune system inhibition and digestive issues, according to the companies.

According to Innova, global product launch activity for products with probiotics increased 17% from 2010 to 2011, and a similar increase has been seen through the first nine months of 2012.