In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
|June 25- July 1, 2009
• Beyond appearances
Canopy Grill puts Caribbean taste at the forefront
by Clay Fong
• The Dessert Diva
A local chef shares her sweet secrets
by Danette Randall
Just how friendly are those probiotics in your food?
by Julie Deardorff
Ready for some live, active cultures in your chocolate? How about your breakfast cereal?
Probiotics, the so-called “friendly” bacteria with health benefits, have busted out of the dairy case and are colonizing other areas of the supermarket.
The bacteria, which occur naturally in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and miso, are thought to aid digestion and support the immune system by balancing the intestinal ecosystem.
But as manufacturers add the microbes to everything from infant formula and fruit juice to pizza, muffins and granola bars, experts caution that the word “probiotic” is widely misused by industry and misunderstood by consumers.
While there are thousands of different bacterial strains, only a few dozen have been tested for health benefits. And though studies suggest some products may offer relief to people with digestive issues, it’s not known whether healthy people receive any benefits from snacking on live “bugs.”
The European Union Food Safety Authority this week started a process to regulate health claims on products, including probiotics. And a pending class-action lawsuit alleges Dannon misled consumers about the benefits of Activia and DanActive, both marketed as probiotics.
Dannon denies using deceptive advertising and is standing by the claims and the studies that supported them. But a spokesman agreed it’s buyer beware at the market.
“We’re on the front lines; we see a lot of confusion,” said Dannon’s Michael Newirth.
There is no standard definition of probiotics, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but scientists generally say the term refers to foods, beverages or supplements containing live microorganisms that studies show promote health when people take enough of them. Without studies, they shouldn’t be called probiotic, scientists say.
“Sadly, of the hundreds of new products launched in recent years, very few have been shown to be probiotic,” said probiotic researcher and developer Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario and the president of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.
Though probiotics are not a new invention — they also are found in breast milk — researchers are just beginning to understand the role they can play in regulating the immune system and managing disease.
Scientists can’t yet explain exactly how probiotics work, but it’s thought they can help restore beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. “Some (bacteria) can produce enzymes that help digest food while others can synthesize vitamin K in the gut or even help stimulate the immune system,” wrote Joe Schwarcz in An Apple a Day: The Myths, Misconceptions and Truths About the Food We Eat.
The bacteria may produce antibodies for certain viruses, produce substances that prevent infection or prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut wall and growing there, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. But if those bacteria are wiped out by disease or medication, potentially harmful microbes may flourish.
The strongest studies have found that a few probiotics (Lactobacillus GG and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii) can help with common gastrointestinal disorders that may involve an imbalance of gut bacteria.
“They are most effective for diarrhea due to rotavirus, and if given early in the course of the illness,” said Stefano Guandalini, professor of pediatrics and chief of gastroenterology section at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. “They’ve been also shown to reduce the incidence of post-antibiotic diarrhea — which occurs in up to 40 percent of children taking antibiotics.”
There’s also growing evidence that children with ulcerative colitis can benefit from a proprietary mixture of eight strains called “VSL #3,” Guandalini said. And certain probiotics have been shown to reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
But more research is needed for almost all other conditions, including cancer, oral health, allergies, skin conditions and obesity.
For the consumer, finding the right probiotic can be vexing. Labels can’t legally declare that the probiotic can cure, treat or prevent disease. So health claims, which don’t require FDA approval, are often vague.
For example, Kashi’s “Vive” is called a “probiotic digestive wellness cereal,” one that “may restore your digestive balance.”
And it may — each serving contains a whopping 12 grams of fiber. But the probiotic used — Lactobacillus paracasei ssp paracasei F19 — has not been tested in humans eating Kashi Vive. And there’s no guarantee that the microbes in the dry cereal are alive.
To make things more complicated, probiotics interact with bacteria already in the body and everyone has slightly different microflora, said probiotic expert Gary Huffnagle, a professor of internal medicine and microbiology at the University of Michigan Medical School. So a product that works for one person might not be the right one for another.
Still, Huffnagle says one of the best things about probiotics is they’re safe and your own trials should yield answers in a few weeks.
Bonnie Thompson, 43, of Fort Collins, who suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for decades, tried several different brands before finding one that worked: the Garden of Life supplement called Primal Defense.
Ultimately, Thompson found the most effective probiotic was her own homemade kefir. “I credit it with normalizing my bowel function,” she said.
—Chicago Tribune, MCT
back to top