Thursday, 21 February 2008

Probiotics- are they good for you?

Don't know if you heard but Danone is being sued for overhyping the science behind their claims of the benefits of the bacteria in their yogourts and using it to sell their Activia and DanActive products for 30% more than other yogourts.

The class action states that the claims on ads and labels for Activia and DanActive pronouncing that the products are "proven" to improve one's "intestinal rhythm" and "regulate your digestive system" are all unsubstantiated. They point to a 2006 study conducted by leading microbiologists and funded by Danone determined there was no conclusive evidence of probiotics providing health benefits.

Many believe that despite this lawsuit, probiotics will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

Probiotics are dietary supplements containing potentially beneficial bacteria and yeasts. Strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most widely used probiotic bacteria. The live microorganisms are found naturally in many fermented foods including yogourt, and are often added to certain foods like yogourt, cheese, milk, and even baby foods.

Recent scientific work on these living microorganisms in food have suggested that probiotics can play a role in immunity, digestive and respiratory functions and they could have an effect on the alleviation of infectious diseases in children and other high-risk groups.

Increasingly, health professionals, including physicians and dietitians, are recommending probiotics. However, it's important to note that all the research done is very limited and only preliminary results are available... and not all results have been positive.

Here are some of the study findings:

Some studies support the potential role of probiotics in therapy of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's, as well as irritable bowel syndrome.

A 2007 clinical study in London showed that consumption of a probiotic drink containing L Casei, L bulgaricus and S thermophilus can reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and c-difficile-associated diarrhea.

Studies have shown a beneficial effect of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium for the prevention and treatment of acute diarrhea mainly caused by rotaviruses in children.

Several small clinical trials have shown that consumption of milk fermented with various strains of lactic acid bacteria can result in modest reductions in blood pressure. It's thought that this is due to the ACE inhibitor-like peptides produced during fermentation.

Studies done on animals have shown that probiotics can improve immunity.

A 2001 study demonstrated that the use of some probiotics enhanced immune parameters in the elderly.

A recent Australian study (thanks Nicole) looked into whether probiotics helped endurance athletes stay healthy during intense training. There were only 20 participants- elite distance runners. A randomly selected group was given a lactobacillus supplement and the other, a placebo. The supplements were taken every day during their 4 month winter training session. They ran, on average, 100km per week(!). The runners who took probiotics averaged 30 days of respiratory symptoms vs 72 days for those on the placebo. The probiotic treatment increased a substance in the runners that works to fight viral infections.

Another recent study from the Netherlands gave ~300 patients with first episodes of acute pancreatitis either a placebo or a combination of Lactobacillus, Lactococcus and Bifidobacterium, directly into the intestine, for 28 days. After 3 months 24 people from the probiotic group had died compared to 9 in the placebo group. These results were unexpected since some earlier studies had associated probiotics with a reduction in infectious pancreatitis. The researchers speculated that the increased oxygen demands of the live bacteria may worsen already reduced blood flow in very ill patients. They also conclude that probiotics should not be considered harmless and should not be given to severely ill patients with organ failure and on a feeding tube.


Jme said...

Man that is really interesting. Hopefully they can further their research w/o endangering more lives! looks like it has potential.

nc said...

Great summary, thanks for the update!! Keep them coming.