Yakult: probiotics may boost brain health

By Shane Starling in Amsterdam

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Probiotics pioneer Yakult says preliminary research indicates the interrelationship of the nervous systems of the gut and the brain could confer cognitive benefits when probiotics are consumed.

Speaking at a one-day seminar about ‘Functional Foods for the 50+ Market’, Netherlands-based Yakult science manager, Dr Jia Zhao, said at least one UK study highlighted how probiotic consumption could benefit those with autism.

Small brain, big brain

“An upcoming area is mental health,”​ Dr Zhao told NutraIngredients.com after making her presentation on gut health for over-50s. “The brain is not beyond the reach of probiotics. The gut is the ‘small brain’ as it is called from a neurology point of view. This is an area for probiotics and functional foods to explore.”

She said this year’s Yakult’s bi-annual symposium in the Netherlands would focus on probiotic health benefits outside of the gut and brain health was one area that would be discussed.

Other areas of interest were weight management, a particularly relevant topic to over-50s where obesity and overweight rates can soar above 75 per cent. Ongoing research on various probiotic strains demonstrated some were more suited to particular health benefits than others, and some may function better in older than younger digestive systems.

Wealthy older folks

Chairman of the event, Dr Sian Astley, the European communications manager at the UK-based Institute of Food Research, highlighted some of the special challenges that accompanied manufacturing and marketing foods to a slice of the population some are calling wealthy older folks (WOOFERs).

She said the science was moving forward demonstrating varying functional food for the elderly benefits from bone health to heart health, but marketing needed to be sensitive to the fact many over-50s are sceptical about having their foods medicalised.

“The needs of representatives of differing sub-groups of the population vary greatly – so they want different things to people in their 20s or children or the very elderly that may be over-80,”​ she told NutraIngredients.com.

“What was encouraging about this conference was the progress science is making in areas such as nutrigenomics and that is making the marketing job easier.”

Some of that science was presented by the likes of Cognis (zeaxanthin and lutein and eye health), DSM (cardiovascular health and a range of ingredients including omega-3, soy and plant sterols and stanols), Danisco Sweeteners (dietary fibre) and Cargill (glucosamine and joint health).

The manner in which science and marketing was being affected by the European Union health and nutrition claims regulation was mentioned several times by both speakers and delegates.

Sophia Johansson, the senior technical and regulatory advisor at Leatherhead Food International, noted in her presentation that some claims were age-specific to over-50s.

“But we were surprised by how few article 13 claims have been submitted,”​ she said, perhaps reflecting the relative novelty of foods in this sector.

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