Probiotics - Beneficial Bacteria

Bacteria used to be a dirty word in the ingredient industry. No one wanted it to find its way into batches, and then delivered to consumers. Bacteria in products meant adulteration, sick consumers and potential fines from regulation agencies.

With probiotics, that has changed. Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “Live organisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host,” while the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) says a probiotic must: “be alive when administered, have undergone controlled evaluation to document health benefits in the target host, be a taxonomically defined microbe or combination of microbes (genus, species and strain level), and be safe for its intended use.”

In short, probiotics are bacteria that have been shown to help bolster health, and research has emerged showing health benefits ranging from gut to immune to skin. Probiotics are ingested and help maintain a critical flora balance between various groups of bacteria, such as lactobacilli, streptococci, lostridia, coliform and bacteriodes, in the intestine. This balance can be disrupted by stress, disease, antibiotics, unhealthy foods, lack of sleep and harmful environmental conditions.

In his book, “The Consumer’s Guide to Probiotics,” S.K. Dash, Ph.D., noted, “Normally, populations of pathogenic flora are kept in balance by competition from good bacteria and because of symbiosis, which is the mutually interdependent relationship among the hundreds of microbial species. The problem is that our modern lifestyles … have left many people with an imbalance of beneficial to pathogenic gut bacteria.” The solution: replenishing and stabilizing levels of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

“Probiotics supplant pathogenic bacteria that cause various kinds of illnesses,” said Michael Shahani, director of operations, Nebraska Cultures. “They create enzymes to help with digestion. They create B vitamins and folic acid. They improve vaginal health in women, and fight fungal and yeast infections in everyone. They have been shown to help with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. And there is new research showing that probiotics can favorably modify immune response.”

Mike Bush, vice president of business development, Ganeden Biotech, said probiotics address a broad spectrum of health conditions ranging from immune, digestive and inflammatory benefits, and added, “Research is being performed looking at conditions as diverse as obesity and metabolic syndrome to autism and oral health.”

All these benefits are driving increased consumer usage. According to a survey by of 6,012 consumers in February 2010, probiotics were used by 30.4 percent of respondents, up from 25 percent last year. One-third of women in the survey used a probiotic. Usage has translated into rising sales. Packaged Facts reported sales of probiotic/prebiotic foods and beverages topped $15 billion in 2008, a 13 percent increase over 2007, and projects the market for functional foods and beverages addressing digestive health will top $22 billion in 2013, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 percent between 2004 and 2013.

The economy may also be a factor behind these increased sales. “As a growing number of consumers seek to counter rising health care costs with preventive measures and non-prescription treatments for digestive problems, probiotics are going mainstream,” said Mark Vieceli, director of sales, marketing and business development, Capsugel.

April 21, 2010