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New probiotic strains will win health claims (but not for 10-15 years): Prof

By Shane Starling , 03-Feb-2012

Professor Dirk Haller is optimistic about probiotic health claims - in the long term at least
Professor Dirk Haller is optimistic about probiotic health claims - in the long term at least

Advances in genomics and understanding the human gut microbiota will lead to the discovery of probiotic bacterial strains that will deliver biomarker-measured health benefits – but it may take 10-15 years, according to a leading researcher.

There is, “good sequencing data coming along”, said Dirk Haller, PhD, from the Departments of Food, Nutrition and Medicine at the Technical University in Munich, Germany. That is data that is opening up understanding of microbial environment of the gut, how it is influenced by nutritional inputs, and how it then delivers health benefits in the gut and in other parts of the body.

For Dr Haller, it is genomic data that will reveal new strains and is likely to make obsolete even the most popular commercially-used strains of today.

“In 10-15 years we will see different strains in the probiotic area, selected in different ways. The strains on the market are struggling to win claims from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but we are gaining new understanding of microbial behaviour in the gut – how to use, when to use – eventually this understanding will be commercialised.”

Dr Haller said he was not surprised strains typically used in commercial products had struggled under the assessment procedures of the European Union nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR), especially in the absence of affirmed biomarkers.

“Those strains currently on-market have not been selected for specific reasons. And survival in the gut and beyond does not necessarily indicate efficacy. But access to the genetic sequences is key to understanding the strain repertoire and there are many functional aspects yet to come.”

Overcoming the difficulty of showing health benefits in non-disease populations was a major hurdle to overcome, but EFSA’s health claims panel should not be blamed for all the rejections it has handed out, he said, especially while microbiota biomarkers are still being developed and confirmed.

“There are no gut health biomarkers for example – you can’t blame the panel for that. Perhaps diseased populations can be taken into consideration but that’s another discussion.”

Dr Haller praised the work of the Boston-based Human Microbiome Project that is three years into a five year project, and has been discovering much about gut microbiota.

He will be presenting at a Probiotics Summit in Brussels this Tuesday, February 7.

Big future

In December the leader of the Human Microbiome Project, Dr Dirk Gevers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts, said his work led him to believe there was much to be optimistic about in pre- and probiotics.

“There is more and more evidence that a switch in microbiome is associated with some kind of disease. We see that with IBD [irritable bowel disease], we see that in diabetes, in lean versus obese people…”

“I think the food is gonna be a key component. We know that prebiotics and probiotics have a good effect on people but understanding how we can optimise those and get to products that can target the microbiome; getting it in a healthy shape…I think that is going to be a big approach in attacking diseases.”

Hear Dr Gevers talking about that here.

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