This section gives an overview of developments in this area including opportunities for novel functional foods. The rare involvement of lactobacilli and starter bacteria in human infections is mentioned and a summary of traditional microbiological approaches to the enumeration of probiotic bacteria is included.
The last major update to this article was published in February 2008, since then there have been a number of significant developments. These include the failure of major European dairy companies to obtain ratification by the EFSA of health claims for probiotic products, the deaths of patients on a probiotic trial in the Netherlands, evidence that perhaps some bacteria designated as probiotics may have the potential to aggravate allergies in neonates. Additionally one major researcher has questioned where any strain of Lb. acidophilus has been shown to meet the criteria for a probiotic! However, there has been other more positive research indicating that particular strains of bacteria, in particular lactic acid bacteria, do have the potential to enhance immunity, reduce allergy, and to alleviate distant site infection. This work has very clearly shown that dairy companies and others have a responsibility to use only well characterised strains that have been shown to have probiotic effects in medical trials. Interesting Reid (2007) has stated "a potential major problem for probiotics is the misuse of the term. This can arise from products being poorly manufactured, or being referred to as probiotic without any relevant documentation. The net effect, deleterious to the overall field of probiotics, might be that such products are found to be ineffective, when in fact they were not even probiotic in the first place." Interestingly there is now a growing consensus that there is a world-wide, critical shortage of well qualified food scientists and technologists in commercial food manufacturing. These developments will be taken into consideration in the next major update to this article.
The next major update will summarise recent work on the gut flora and how this complex flora is thought to influence health. Recent research suggests that the gut flora can influence mood e.g. depression and its modification may have the potential to influence body mass and obesity. The main evidence for the latter has come from animal studies and anecdotal accounts of the consequences of faecal microbiota transplants also known as a stool transplants. This work suggests very significant potential for new generation probiotic products.
Gut problems e.g. dyspepsia (indigestion) are common and the Internet has many sites advocating probiotics for treating a range of symptoms. This article, while it may be of interest to the general public, does not promote the medical use of commercial yoghurt products, none of which currently have EFSA endorsements as probiotics in Europe, to treat gastrointestinal problems. I am aware of people experiencing dyspepsia who treated their symptoms with commercial yoghurt products and subsequently found that they had a range of physical medical conditions ranging from ulcers, hiatus hernia to more malign conditions that required surgical intervention. I am positive about the potential health benefits of probiotics but urge readers with health issues to discuss their problems with physicians, who certainly in Europe, take care not to do harm before self-treating with yoghurt type products.
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