Dietary and food supplements based on probiotics: how to prove their safety and efficacy?
The market of probiotics is one the most important in Europe since they are often recommended by the doctor to restore the intestinal bacterial flora following antibiotic therapy.
What is a probiotic?
Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host (FAO/OMS definition – Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food).The benefits include:• strengthening of the immune system• support of the digestive process by breaking down some hard-to-digest foods• production of substances having antimicrobial action
Microorganisms must be alive at the time of intake and at least one billion per gram, pass unharmed through digestive processes and reach the intestine to exert positive effects on the intestinal bacterial flora to be really effective (or microbiota) (source ISS – Food supplements based on probiotics, Italian Guidelines):
How to prove the beneficial effects of probiotics.
The beneficial effects of introducing probiotics into supplements and food products are widely promoted and recommended by health professionals. Several studies state that probiotics play an important role in immunological, digestive and respiratory functions. In addition, some papers claim that they may have a positive effect in the treatment of infectious diseases.
However, it is necessary to demonstrate that such microorganisms have certain characteristics and activities, both in the product and once taken up by the consumer. For example, they must be active and viable, resist the digestive process (low pH, gastric juice, bile and pancreatic juice), and temporarily persist in the intestine.