Little evidence to bacteria-rich food claims

By Sumana Narayanan
Published: Friday 15 February 2008

Foreign bacteria may damage he (Credit: SAMRAT MUKHERJEE)recently, several food products enriched with friendly bacteria have hit markets in India. The latest entrant, Yakult Danone's probiotic drink, claims that the lactose digesting bacteria added to the drink aid digestion. But there is little scientific evidence to support such claims.

Some studies have found that the probiotic bacteria in food products help digestion. But experts say the results can't be generalized since many of the studies are based on small groups of people from specific regions. It may not be applicable to people of different ethnicities with varied diets, says a report, 'Probiotics in Food: health and nutritional properties and guidelines for evaluation' by the who.

A 2001 review on the efficacy of probiotic products by who and the Food and Agriculture Organization found that probiotics work better in people with health problems such as diarrhoea and urinary infections--not in healthy people. who recommended further research to ascertain its effects on healthy people.

Some experts say the new bacteria entering a body might affect the useful bacteria already present in it and their interaction may cause further damage. "If the new bacteria are resistant to a particular drug, these qualities could be passed on," says V K Batish of the National Diary Research Institute, Karnal. B Sesikeran of the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, says, "People have been consuming 'probiotics' in their traditional diets, say, curd which is a product of bacterial action".

Yakult says its drink contains 6.5 billion friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus casei, but experts say this may be a waste. "One needs to consume about a billion bacteria a day which we get from our daily intake of dahi," says Batish.

Authorities in India are in the dark over the possible effects of probiotic food products. In India, there are no guidelines on the production and use of such food. The Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006, however, mentions setting up a scientific panel on probiotics and also defines probiotics and how they may be sold, but the act is yet to be implemented.

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