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In the Spotlight: Probiotics

probiotics under microscope
Probiotics have become a high-demand ingredient for functional foods and beverages and reseach on ingredients and the microbiome continues to bolster interest in the category.

Probiotics have become a household term, as awareness of their digestive health benefits is widespread and prolific. They have become a high-demand ingredient for functional foods and beverages and it’s apparent that the science and research on ingredients as well as the microbiome continues to bolster interest in the category.

Regulation is always an underlying topic for the nutraceutical and functional food industry in Europe and nowhere is that more apparent than in the probiotics sector. The industry is pro-regulation, accepting that effective regulation is essential for a level playing field and consumer confidence, but it can create major headaches. Recently, the probiotic food sector has been looking to provide a harmonised regulatory framework in the EU for the term ‘contains probiotics’, as the European Union has nixed the use of the term and not approved any health claims. Due to the 2007 interpretation issued on the implementation of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation 1924/2006 (NHCR), per which the term ‘probiotic’ should be interpreted as a health claim, only by first submitting a health claim authorisation to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) can the probiotics industry even use the word ‘probiotic’. The sector argues this interpretation is based on a guidance that has no legal value and, above all, is not coherent with a more comprehensive communication of the presence of probiotics in foods.

However, as consumers become more interested in nutrition, they’re becoming more educated: European consumers no longer need to be explicitly told probiotics support digestive health. As such, the regulatory environment hasn’t dampened the appeal and probiotic technology is innovating at a very fast pace with ever-abundant research.

As consumers now know probiotics support their gut health, the myth that they are only beneficial for digestion has proliferated. Many are unaware that 70 percent of the body’s immune cells are in the digestive tract and are acted upon by certain specific strains. Formulators, and consumers, must look at the clinical studies supporting the exact strain being considered to determine which benefits the strain offers.

Most consumers are only familiar with dairy products for probiotic supplementation and most probiotic strains are unable to withstand traditional food and beverage manufacturing processes, so formulation with probiotics in products outside the refrigerated dairy category was almost impossible in the past. However, new processes are allowing a boom in innovative delivery formats and the category is expanding rapidly. Manufacturers can now add probiotics to functional foods and beverages, increasing product range, sales and consumer accessibility.

As research interest continues, studies indicate probiotics may help beyond the gut. The use of probiotics in the treatment of periodontitis has aroused the interest of the scientific community, since they can modulate the immunoinflammatory host response and modify the bacterial environment. The oral cavity is a complex microbial system that harbours more than 700 different species, and the biofilm is associated with infectious diseases such as periodontal disease. The aim of probiotic therapy here is to replace non-resident pathogens with non-pathogenic bacteria.

Research from Japan suggests the gut could be the secret to longevity. The Japanese centenarian population has reached over 65,000, making it the country with the largest percentage of people over 100 years old. The extraordinary longevity and the fact the Japanese stay healthy longer could both be attributed to the diet: unlike in the West, the Japanese diet includes a variety of fermented foods which provide a range of probiotics and prebiotics crucial to maintaining a healthy gut. Increasing knowledge of gut microbiota and fermentation provides new prospects for living longer and better.

Although evidence is limited so far and the biological mechanisms of the effects of probiotics are not yet fully elucidated, probiotics continue to be one of the most popular topics in science and the food industry, and consumers can expect rapid innovation in this sector.

Learn more about probiotics in the Digital Magazine Beyond the Gut Instinct, or type ‘Probiotics’ into the search bar for more.

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