Diary of Unknown Symptoms

Mystery of the Internal Vibration

Entry for August 08, 2006

Why up to half of all probiotics ‘don’t work’
22:59pm 7th August 2006

Bursting with ‘friendly bacteria’, they claim to boost our health by keeping rival ‘bad bacteria’ at bay. But many probiotic products are a waste of time and money – and some may even be harmful, experts have warned.

Glenn Gibson, a professor of food microbiology, cautioned that up to half the probiotic drinks, yoghurts, powders and capsules on the market do not work. The Reading University scientist said: ‘There is research showing that half of the products you can buy in the UK don’t match up. They’ve got the wrong bacteria or the wrong numbers.

‘Some have pathogens in them and some are completely sterile, which is quite an achievement for any food product.’ The foods – regularly eaten by two million Britons – claim to enhance our digestion and our overall health by boosting the numbers of ‘friendly’ bacteria in our guts.

However, lax food-labelling laws mean that manufacturers do not have to say which ‘friendly bacteria’ they have used or how much. The result is that some brands sold on the internet and in health foods stores are completely ineffective at warding off disease. ‘There are a lot of products out there that no-one’s ever heard of, and this is where the problems arise,’ Prof Gibson said. ‘Half the products on sale don’t match up to what they say on their labels.

‘There’s no legislation. You could buy a yoghurt-maker from Tesco, make your own probiotics, and sell them.’ He stressed, however, that the best-known brands of probiotic drinks, yoghurts and supplements, including Yakult, Actimel and Multibionta, do work. Supermarket own-brands are also effective.

Tried and tested yoghurts and supplements contain at least ten million ‘friendly bacteria’ from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria families per bottle or capsule. When effective, probiotics can aid digestion and cut the risk of stomach upsets.

Bowel conditions

Research suggests they help prevent bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis, protect children against allergies, and may even reduce the risk of colon cancer. They may be particularly useful for older people, bolstering levels of ‘friendly bacteria’ which dwindle with age.

The foods may also benefit those on antibiotics, replacing ‘good bacteria’ killed off indiscriminately by the drugs. Speaking at a briefing organised by the Society for Applied Microbiology, the experts acknowledged that the cost of the products may put them beyond the reach of many of those who would most benefit.

While there is no natural source of probiotics, we can boost our gut bacteria naturally by eating lots of fruit and vegetables. These contain prebiotics – the sugars that the ‘friendly bacteria’ already present in our guts need to grow.


August 8, 2006 - Posted by | Health | ,

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