USA Today - An Appetite For Bacteria?
October 16, 2006 | By USA Today

Have you eaten any good bacteria lately? That may seem like an odd question.

But, in fact, foods and supplements containing probiotics - living microorganisms that, in sufficient doses, are thought to yield health benefits - are a growing part of the U.S. diet. And manufacturers are making a big new push to get them into the carts of mainstream consumers.

"The buzz about probiotics has become a roar," said a report in June from the American Academy of Microbiology.

Can consumers believe the hype?

In this case, the answer might be yes - though caveats apply.

Probiotics have been under scientific scrutiny for years. The research is based on a growing appreciation that a healthy human body relies on armies of "friendly" bacteria. The good bugs keep bad bugs in check and may perform other functions essential to a healthy gut and immune system. But the balance of bacteria can be thrown off by a number of factors, including the use of antibiotics (which kill both good and bad bugs), a poor diet, stress and infection.

So a dose of the right bacteria at the right time might well come to the rescue of people who have ailments such as lactose intolerance, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.

One Swedish study showed that employees who received a daily dose of Lactobacillus reuteri had fewer sick days than those who got a placebo. A Finnish study found that infants at high risk for allergies because of family history were less likely to develop them if their mothers ingested certain bacteria during pregnancy and the newborns got doses for six months. Meanwhile, very preliminary research suggests probiotics might play a role in preventing tooth decay, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, or even preventing some cancers.

"The science in many cases is still evolving," says Mary Ellen Sanders, a microbiologist in Colorado who advises probiotic marketers.

Given the doubts, "it's just not clear that these newer products have any advantage over good old-fashioned yogurt," says David Grotto, a Chicago area nutrition consultant and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

But others are more enthusiastic. Probiotics to prevent and treat allergies and infections in children "have great potential value," says Allan Walker, director of the division of nutrition at Harvard Medical School. He has consulted for probiotic manufacturers.


The content material of this article or webpage is for educational and consumer information purposes only, under section 5 of DSHEA.

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