Probiotics: How much is marketing, and how much science?

When food packaging says “contains probiotics,” do you really reap health benefits by purchasing it or are you simply feeding a marketing trend? The answer to this question is far from clear.

When food packaging says “contains probiotics,” do you really reap health benefits by purchasing it or are you simply feeding a marketing trend? The answer to this question is far from clear.

While some bacteria are harmful to the body, others live in our body naturally and contribute to our well-being. Probiotics are “good” bacteria, live micro-organisms that work by restoring the balance of intestinal bacteria (which we call “bacterial flora”), among other things. The bacterial flora can become unbalanced when we take certain types of medication – antibiotics, for example – or have a health problem, such as diarrhea.

There is no standard labelling protocol to help consumers find their way in the maze of probiotic products out there. On its own, the word “probiotic” is not enough to tell buyers whether they can get health benefits from a given product. Much as doctors prescribe different antibiotics depending on the type of bacteria affecting their patients, it appears that different probiotic species and strains found in foods have different properties.

Look at Lactobacillus, for example. This probiotic comes in a number of strains, including Lactobacillus GG (often called LGG), L. casei DN114001 (found in Danone products) and L. casei Shirota.

Studies suggest that these strains can all reduce diarrhea. One of the most studied strains, LLG, has also reportedly shown benefits in treating atopic eczema and milk allergy in infants. In addition, both LGG and L. casei DN114001 appear useful in preventing infections in daycare settings.

It therefore seems that probiotics could be helpful in various disturbances accompanied by diarrhea, as well as in irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive system irregularities. However, all other allegations, particularly those pertaining to the immune system, remain highly controversial scientifically speaking.

In conclusion, probiotics can certainly be part of a healthy diet. However, are they really worth their high cost? You decide!

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