Functional Foods – Probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial, mono or mixed culture of non-pathogenic, live microorganisms which can have a positive effect on the health and physiology of consumers. Probiotics have been used by humans for thousands of years and their health benefits have recently started to be recognised and appreciated. Most probiotic bacteria are lactic acid bacteria and are naturally found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and cheeses. Foods like yogurts and cheeses are nutritious foods in their own right, but the addition of substances such as probiotics and prebiotics helps to enhance their functionality as health promoting foods. Over the past decade, a lot of attention has been given to microbial functions and their effects on the host’s health and nutritional benefits. The research and development of probiotic products has led to an increased focus on their functional benefits, which includes: resistance to infections, antimicrobial activities, immune modulation and therapeutic effects.

There has been a host of dramatic health claims associated with probiotic supplements ranging from the norm to the very dramatic. These claims include; the prevention of diarrhoea, colitis, anti-tumorigenic effects, cholesterol reduction, treatment of irritable bowel diseases and the treatment of atopic dermatitis etc. While only a few of these claims have been proven and have been backed up by scientific studies, further research is still needed, until which, many of these claims will remain as speculation. Most of the research carried out into these products have been sponsored by probiotic companies, and are therefore likely to produce biased results.

In places such as the US and Japan, health claims are being accepted but not so in Europe. The European Food Standards Agency are requesting that for the  evidence of health claims to noted, studies should be carried out on human subjects and not based upon research carried out on animals, as was the case in Japan.

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