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Ideal ingredient calling card: probiotics

Everything you need to know about probiotics, from their history and where they're found to market drivers and physiological effects.

Gail C. Keck

April 20, 2011

2 Min Read
Ideal ingredient calling card: probiotics

Pro (“for”) biotic (From the Greek For “life”)

What they are

  • Live micro-organisms that benefit the host

  • Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Bacillus coagulans, Probiotic yeast

  • FAO definition: "live micro-organisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host"

Where they’re found

  • Fermenting milk and yogurt, kefir, buttermilk or karnemelk

  • Vegetarian sources: Pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, doenjang, kimchi, sauerkraut, soy sauce

  • Human gut and breast milk

Food or medicine?

  • Introduced in 1907 by Russian Nobel laureate Eli Metchnikoff

  • Health benefits were first documented in 1000 BCE in Ayurvedic treatise by Charaka Samhita

  • Everybody needs them – they’re tied to gut and immune cell functions

  • Not all bugs are the same: strain, condition specific, dose specific

  • Potential to correct gut issues, but biomarkers are still a sticky matter

  • Formulated and marketed as medical foods

  • Currently, no approved health claims for probiotics

Manufacturing constraints

  • Confused by highly proprietary and scientific mumbo jumbo

  • Proliferation of brands – everyone’s naming their bugs

  • Vulnerability to heat and harsh chemicals restricts application in prepared meals manufacture

  • Encapsulants protect but also lower bioavailability

  • Cost major deterrent for food firms

Market drivers

  • The global H1N1 pandemic acted as a major catalyst

  • Consumers believe daily dose is good for you

  • Babies need them so does everyone else including animals

  • Biotherapeutic effects counteract ills of highly processed foods

  • Spells palpable RELIEF for gut-health issues

  • Consumer movies such as Microwarriors and “Germs with a Positive Attitude” popular on YouTube

Physiological effects

  • Probiotics manage good/bad balance of the ~1014 (100,000,000,000,000) bacterial cells in the human body

  • Modulate gastrointestinal health particularly diarrhea, colon cancer and irritable bowel syndrome

  • Protect immune function at all ages; several scientific studies underway

  • Studies show cholesterol reduction and protection against cardiovascular disease

  • Delay or prevent inflammatory deterioration

  • Allergy preventive action and a multitude of benefits may soon translate into clinical effects

Surprising fact
The probiotic paradox: Dead or Alive – probiotics are biological response modifiers and good for you!


Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., is a principal at Corvus Blue, a Chicago-based food science and nutrition firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at [email protected] or 312-951-5810.

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