Mainstream Media Promoting
The Benefits of Probiotics
Bacteria are everywhere, and in the view of many people that's
a good thing.
Many medical experts believe that consuming healthy bacteria,
improves the body's overall balance of good versus bad micro-organisms,
boosting general health. But nutritionists warn that not all the
probiotic-containing products found on store shelves provide the
health benefits they claim.
Companies have sought to attract health-conscious consumers in
recent years by putting probiotics in products as diverse as yogurt,
juices, muffins and even pizza, as well as in dietary supplements.
Last year, 231 new probiotic-containing products hit grocery and
pharmacy shelves, up from just 34 in 2005, according to market-research
firm Datamonitor PLC.
Say, for example, you want information on the active bacteria
in Activia, a probiotic-enhanced yogurt from Dannon Co. The product
label identifies the strain as Bifidus Regularis, but this is
only a marketing name. The Activia Web site, under the tab "for
health-care professionals," links you to summaries of scientific
papers that use the scientific name, Bifidobacterium animalis
DN-173 010, which has been found to hasten digestion. For additional
information, you can do an Internet search of that name and many
of the scientific studies on the strain pop up.
Probiotic dietary supplements also may be confusing. In a 2006
study, ConsumerLab.com, which tests nutritional products, found
that just eight of 13 probiotic supplements met its quality standards.
While there's no guarantee, consumers stand a better chance of
getting quality products from well known, reputable manufacturers,
Some additional tips when buying probiotic foods: Look for the
word "live" on the package, since organisms killed by processing
won't be helpful, says Gary B. Huffnagle, a professor at the University
of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. Respecting the expiration
date is particularly important, because even if a product still
tastes good the bacteria may no longer be alive. For maximum benefit,
scientists say, try to consume a variety of different bacteria,
as each may contribute something slightly different.
Here are some claims probiotic manufacturers make for their products:
Faster Digestion: Dannon's Activia yogurt and Yoplait Yo-Plus
yogurt, made by General Mills Inc., contain bacteria that have
been shown in scientific studies to reduce "transit time" of waste
through the intestines. Slow digestion isn't necessarily bad but
can cause discomfort, such as bloating or constipation.
Dannon points to four published studies testing a formulation
similar to its product in humans. General Mills says a large body
of scientific evidence backs up the efficacy of the bacteria in
Yo-Plus. And the company says a recent study, presented at a conference
of the American College of Gastroenterology, found that a dairy
drink with the same active ingredients as a four-ounce container
of Yo-Plus reduced transit time to 21 hours from 31 hours, compared
with no change with a placebo. The study was funded by General
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: This disorder, including cramping,
abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, can be disabling.
A scientific task force, which published its findings in the American
Journal of Gastroenterology this month, concluded that certain
probiotic bacteria -- primarily bifidobacteria -- have shown "some
efficacy" in treating the condition.
One bacterium with solid science behind it is Bifidobacterium
infantis 35624, the main ingredient in Procter & Gamble
Co.'s Align dietary supplement. In a 2006 published study, partially
funded by P&G, a daily dose of the product was shown to relieve
a wide range of symptoms better than a placebo.
Colic: When babies scream or cry with no apparent reason, it's
called colic. A study of 83 infants, published last year in the
journal Pediatrics found that five drops a day of a probiotic
supplement from Sweden's BioGaia AB reduced median crying time
from 197 minutes a day to 51 minutes. A control group of babies
was given a liquid medication commonly used to treat colic but
not widely viewed as effective; this group's crying fell to a
median of 145 minutes a day.
Immune Health: Studies have long found that probiotics help regulate
the immune system on a biochemical level. A small but growing
number of studies are showing concrete health benefits in humans.
Among them is an Israeli study that looked at Lactobacillus
reuteri 55730 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12.
Published in 2005 in Pediatrics, the three-month study of 201
infants found that babies fed with either of the two probiotic
formulas had fewer episodes of fever and diarrhea than babies
fed a control formula. Of the two bacteria, L. reuteri was more
effective in preventing illness, the study found.
B. lactis Bb-12 is available in Yo-Plus yogurt and Nestle SA's
Good Start Natural Cultures infant formula. The L. reuteri strain
is in BioGaia's dietary supplements, as well as in Nestle's Boost
Kid Essentials boxed dairy drink. The bacteria are in the straw
and are intended to be ingested with the juice.
Other bacteria with scientifically demonstrated immune-health
properties include Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001, the
bacteria in Dannon's DanActive dairy drink, and L. rhamnosus GG,
in Dannon's Danimals children's drink.
Oral Health: A small number of studies have found benefits for
probiotics in preventing cavities and easing gum disease.
A two-week, 42-patient study published last year found that daily
chewing of gum with BioGaia's L. reuteri strains improved gum
health compared with a placebo gum. The study was funded in part
by BioGaia. The gum product is not available in the U.S. But the
company sells lozenges that BioGaia says it believes will be as
effective as the gum.
A seven-month Finnish study of 594 children, published in 2001
in the journal Caries Research, found that children who drank
milk infused with L. rhamnosus GG had significantly fewer cavities
than those who drank regular milk. The study received funding
from Valio Ltd., a Helsinki company that supplies the bacteria
to food and dietary supplement companies, including Dannon for
use in Danimals.
Antibiotic-associated diarrhea: Regular yogurt has long been
used to stave off this unpleasant side effect of taking antibiotics.
However, supplements and foods fortified with additional probiotics
may provide further relief, scientists say. So far there is good
scientific evidence for several strains, including L. rhamnosus
GG and Saccharomyces boulardii lyo, a yeast sold by France's Laboratoires
Biocodex SA as a dietary supplement under the brand name Florastor.
Dannon's DanActive drink has also been shown effective.