You’ve seen the television ads, you’ve heard all about their digestive health benefits and many of you have probably taken probiotics (also known as ‘friendly’ bacteria) to improve your intestinal health and strengthen your immune system… Many people take them after a course of antibiotics, which deplete levels of ‘friendly’ bacteria.
This begs the question, why are these permanent residents of the human digestive tract getting such a hard time from health authorities like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)? The EFSA appears to be rejecting almost all the health claims being submitted for probiotic products out of hand…despite the mounting studies confirming their numerous health benefits.
What’s the low-down?
Our regular readers will know that a new European Union (EU) law requires any product that makes some kind of health claim to be able to prove the claims by submitting data (in the form of medical studies) to the EFSA.
Recently, the EFSA’s health claims panel refused the gut health research dossier of Valio, a probiotic manufacturer. Their dossier was based on the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) probiotic strain and it included 600 published studies, 38 doctoral dissertations, and about 50 immune- specific studies.
Yet, the draconian EFSA maintains that these numerous studies failed to demonstrate the health benefits of this particular probiotic strain! They also say that Valio cannot make any immune protection claims for their probiotic because some of the studies were conducted on people suffering from diarrhoea…
So let me get this straight: You have a product that can improve gut health and therefore strengthen immunity. You test it on people with diarrhoea and the results are positive, thus scientifically proving its benefits… Yet, some pen-pusher in an office decides that this is not enough evidence to back your claims!
What makes the whole situation even more ridiculous is that the LGG probiotic strain has been the ‘strain of reference’ for many researchers. So the EFSA’s rejection affects the entire probiotic research community!
Time to make up your own mind
Of course, Valio can carry on selling their probiotic… just without making any health claims… But, as you and I know, if people don’t know the benefits of what they’re taking, they probably won’t buy it… and that’s how you and I are kept in a catch-22 situation.
Fortunately for us, there are countless studies (like those submitted to the EFSA by Valio) that prove the wide-range of health benefits probiotic’s provide. So, as far as I am concerned, much as the EFSA has the last say about what can and can’t be said when it comes to health claims, it’s still up to the consumer to let the research findings speak for themselves!
Like the most recent studies that have shown how some probiotics can help prevent the kind of allergic reaction that occurs in hay fever… This is the wonder and power of probiotics… whilst they’re found in your gut, their protective benefits stretch far beyond your intestinal walls.
Probiotics protect against hay fever
Researchers in Switzerland and Canada have been investigating probiotics for use during the grass pollen season, whilst in Finland strains effective against birch pollen have been identified, and in Japan sensitivity to Japanese Cedar pollen has been the focus of attention.
So far, only a few probiotic strains have been found to help alleviate hay fever symptoms, so it is important to make sure you are taking the right ones.
A British company that specialises in producing probiotic supplements that are tailored for specific health concerns is Wren Laboratories, in Hampshire. They make a range of supplements under the name Optibac and have just launched their latest addition: Optibac For Daily Wellbeing Extra Strength.
It contains five separate strains of probiotic bacteria. Just as the roses in your garden come in a large number of varieties that differ in colour and scent, so each species of probiotic can have numerous strains with different characteristics.
Two of the five strains present in Optibac For Daily Wellbeing Extra Strength, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bl-04, were the subject of a placebo- controlled clinical trial on birch pollen, which is the worst tree pollen offender in the UK for causing hay fever.
In a Finnish clinical trial, 47 schoolchildren with confirmed birch pollen allergy took either a combination of the above two probiotic strains or a placebo for four months, starting just before the onset of the birch pollen season. The children recorded their symptoms in a diary and blood samples, faecal samples and nasal swabs were taken for analysis at intervals during the study.
During May, the probiotic group had significantly less symptoms of runny nose, while in June three times less children in this group had nasal congestion than in the placebo group. Nasal swabs confirmed that probiotics reduced the numbers of immune cells called eosinophils, which are responsible for producing inflammatory chemicals. In addition, levels of immunoglobulin A, an immune system chemical involved in allergic reactions, rose in the placebo group but remained low in the probiotics group.
Probiotics can be equally effective against hay fever triggered by grass pollen, according to the newly-published results of a study from the Nestle© Research Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In a double-blind clinical trial, 31 adult hay fever sufferers took a yoghurt drink containing Lactobacillus paracasei ST11 or a placebo for four weeks during the pollen season. The groups then swapped treatments for a further four weeks. Results showed that the probiotic reduced both nasal congestion and nasal itching and also led to lower levels of inflammatory chemicals called interleukins.
Another strain of the same species of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus paracasei KW3110, was found to be effective in reducing the symptoms of hay fever due to Japanese Cedar pollen, in a double-blind study involving 126 hay fever patients. Optibac For Daily Wellbeing Extra Strength contains Lactobacillus paracasei Lpc-37 – a probiotic closely related to the ones used in these two studies.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
‘Valio: EFSA ignored peer-reviewed data in probiotic claim rejection’ published online 07.06.11, nutraingredients.com
World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Jul 14;15(26):3261-8
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