Probiotic Promises

February 9, 2010

As probiotics spread to more functional foods, the challenges of ensuring that bacteria can survive in various product forms are greater than ever.

Originally Published NO January/February 2010

 

 

As probiotics spread to more functional foods, the challenges of ensuring that bacteria can survive in various product forms are greater than ever.

Even supplements, which some say may be easier to maintain probiotic viability with compared to some functional foods, struggle to keep probiotics alive. In fact, many probiotic supplements on the market currently do not clear this hurdle, according to ConsumerLab.com (White Plains, NY). In November, ConsumerLab reported that many of the probiotic supplements on the market do not contain the number of living cells their product labels promise.

Based on testing of 13 different branded supplements, including those for children, adults, and pets, ConsumerLab concluded that at the time a probiotic supplement is purchased, chances are it may contain as little as 7% to 58% of the amount of live bacteria promised on its product label. One supplement tested, a children's probiotic product, was in fact found to contain a mere 7% of its claimed live bacteria.

ConsumerLab did note that although most products provided fewer bacteria cells than their labels promised, "most [products] yielded at least one billion organisms, an amount that may provide some benefit." Still, not living up to the promises on a product's label is a huge problem for marketers nowadays-especially as consumers, who are increasingly embracing the concept of probiotics, are also becoming more knowledgeable about inflated product promises. (Negative headlines such as those about Dannon's class-action lawsuit settlement over its Activia and DanActive yogurt health claims, don't help to paint probiotic products in a favorable light.)

"One of the things that consumers are starting to become aware of is just because you put a probiotic in a product when you made it doesn't mean it's still going to be alive when the consumer ingests it," says Michael Bush, vice president of business development for Ganeden Biotech (Cleveland). "The biggest challenge with probiotics is making sure that the consumer gets the benefit of what they're paying for."

In fact, only two products that ConsumerLab tested were found to contain the number of viable bacteria cells they proposed to contain at the time of purchase. One of those products was Jarro-Dophilus EPS, a probiotic supplement from Jarrow Formulas (Los Angeles) that is shelf stable at room temperature. Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, a consultant to Jarrow Formulas, says that the enteric coating and blister packaging surrounding each Jarro-Dophilus capsule help to keep the probiotics shelf stable.

Enclosed in a pill, Jarro-Dophilus probiotics are well protected. However, what happens when live bacteria are used in products that aren't refrigerated or in pill form?

This month's cover story discusses the challenges in keeping probiotics alive in a wider range of food and beverage products. The good news is that manufacturers are innovating new technologies, all so that probiotics can live up to their full promise and potential.

Jennifer Kwok
Editor