The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Why Probiotics?

Why Probiotics?

The Food Journal

June 10, 2014

In the food we eat:

While probiotics can be ingested from a refrigerated capsule or a pill, the philosophy of Toby Amidor, RD, MS, CDN and Author of The Greek Yogurt, when it comes to probiotics is food first. “I would rather see people eat food with natural probiotics, says Toby. “Kimchi (fermented cabbage), cheese, miso, sauerkraut are good examples and even frozen yogurt has live and active cultures. People can start there and then naturally build their gut flora to be naturally healthy based. Even with taking antibiotics, you can supplement your probiotics with servings of Greek yogurt. This also meets your three daily servings of dairy for the day.” Probiotics have been consumed historically in the forms of yogurt and fermented milks. READ TOBY AMIDOR FULL PERSPECTIVE HERE

Prebiotics “were first developed in order to induce beneficial changes in the gut microbiota and to overcome some of the survivability issues that can occur with probiotics (in the product and after ingestion)” (Food Science and Technology Bulletin). Prebiotics can be found in fiber but not all fiber is prebiotic.  An example is Inulin from Chicory root, providing a significant amount of prebiotic fiber. One can look for bread with increased fiber on the label to receive the benefits of prebiotics, but some people have uncomfortable symptoms after eating insulin.  Other prebiotic foods include raw garlic, cooked or raw onion, raw leek… but there are also prebiotic fiber pills on the market.

The Input of the FDA:

Due to the multitude of strains, the FDA has not approved any specific health claims for probiotics. The varying strains also make it impossible to establish an RDA for a probiotic. Probiotics in fact fall under various categories for the FDA; dietary supplements, foods or drugs. In the FDA Guidance for Industry on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Products, the FDA states, “Other factors may also affect the classification of the product, e.g., whether the product contains a 'dietary ingredient'; whether it is represented as a conventional food or as a meal replacement; and, for probiotics used as ingredients in a conventional food, whether the ingredient is generally recognized as safe for its intended use.”

Nicki Briggs, MS, RD, says the FDA could help consumers by guidance around marketing of these products. “The FDA could put out the message, ‘We don’t know quite enough yet about probiotics, but we are going to tell you to be careful of all the marketing behind probiotics until there is better regulation from science,’” explains Briggs. “Until then, if eating a product with probiotics makes you feel good, great, and if not, try another variety.” READ NICKI BRIGGS FULL PERSPECTIVE HERE

The Growing Science of Probiotics:

Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD., a consultant in the area of probiotic microbiology, sees exciting developments in changing a person’s microbiome to be healthier. (The human microbiome is the body of microbes that colonize your body and the genes they encode.)  “This is where probiotics may fit in,” explains Sanders. "Probiotics – existing ones or ones to be developed – are one way to change the microbiome.”  Sanders clarifies that the story of the microbiome, health and disease, and probiotics is an evolving one that also includes obesity. “Animal studies show that if you transfer the microbes from an obese animal into a lean one, the lean one will become obese. So our colonizing microbes likely play a role,” says Sanders. “But animals are not humans, and we have much to learn about how this works.  It is likely a very complicated interaction among many variables.  So we don’t know yet what role probiotics might play.” READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH MARY ELLEN SANDERS HERE

The FDA’s lack of clarification in the regulatory process affects this science.  According to ScienceDaily and scientists working in microbiome and probiotics research, "The current regulatory framework discourages the development of probiotic food in preventing disease, improving health, or possibly treating disease." 

Where can consumers turn for answers on probiotics?

“Consumers can empower themselves by reading the strain numbers listed after the species,” reiterates Nicki Briggs. “Knowledge of those numbers informs the impact of the probiotic. Manufacturers can offer heightened transparency to consumers as well.” The World Gastroenterology Organisation Global Guidelines on Probiotics and Prebiotics lists strains with graded evidence for GI benefits.

Other consumer information sources include: International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics Consumer Guides for Making Smart Choices;  the United European Gastroenterology and European Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility World Digestive Health Day Video on the importance of gut microbes in health and disease;  and Probiotics. What are they and what they can do for you. A patient's guide from your doctor and The American Gastroenterology Association."

When choosing a probiotic, consumers may want to stick with a manufacturer one trusts as big companies have a lot to lose if they mislabel. Supermarket RDs can direct consumers to a probiotic they trust, but also continue to emphasize the importance of a well rounded diet with fruits, vegetables and proteins for best gut health.