Bugs in baby food? Microbes in your milkshake? Relax, this is not
the latest tainted food scare - it is a growing trend in foods designed
to boost health, not make you sick.
These products contain probiotics, or "friendly" bacteria similar to
those found in the human digestive system.
There are supplement pills, yogurts, smoothies, snack bars and
cereals, even baby formula and chocolate. Sold by major names like
Dannon and Kraft, they are spreading like germs on grocery store
shelves and in supermarket dairy cases.
And they come with vague health claims of "regulating your digestive
health" or "strengthening your body's defences."
Probiotics generally safe
Experts say probiotics are generally safe, and in some cases might
be helpful. More research is needed, and it is a hot new area,
reflecting a growing understanding of the role that naturally occurring
intestinal bacteria play in health.
The market is ahead of the science. It is all part of a burgeoning effort to capitalise on an obsession with health foods.
Probiotics are already popular in Europe, Asia and South America.
And there are "prebiotics," too, which contain fibre and other
nutrients that feed probiotic bacteria.
So far this year, more than 150 probiotic and prebiotic commercial
food products have been introduced in the US, compared with about 100
last year and just 40 in 2005, said Tom Vierhile of Datamonitor, a
market research firm.
"It is definitely a growing trend," Vierhile said.
Fights many ailments
While many probiotic products have not been put to a rigorous
scientific test, there is emerging evidence that in huge amounts, some
kinds of "friendly" bacteria can be helpful.
Small studies have suggested that certain probiotics might help
treat or prevent some types of gastroenteritis, diarrhoea and allergic
skin reactions, and the bugs are being investigated for many other
ailments. – (Sapa/AP)
New uses for probiotics
Probiotics, allergy and immunology