P-Day: Could US research save probiotics in Europe?

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alternative medicine

Could NCCAM's probiotic position influence other agencies and regulators?
Could NCCAM's probiotic position influence other agencies and regulators?
European probiotic researchers are welcoming last week’s commitment to probiotic study by a major US government health and nutrition agency, with biomarker development a real possibility.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) – an organ of the National Institutes of Health – last Friday committed to developing “promising” ​science and probiotics were one area it singled out in the agency’s five-year plan.

NCCAM stated: “There is scientific evidence that probiotics are useful in treating some forms of diarrhea, and emerging evidence that they may be helpful in treating a number of other conditions. NCCAM supports a large portfolio of research on probiotics.”

Responding Glenn Gibson, PhD, the Head of Food Microbial Sciences at the University of Reading in the UK, drew analogies between the NCCAM approach and that of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), whose near unilateral rejection of probiotic science in backing health claims has provoked outrage among probiotic researchers the world over (and sparked a petition​ against the EU status quo that as of today had 143 academic signatories).

I very much welcome the positive support for a crucial area of human and animal health, namely probiotics,”​ Gibson said of NCCAM’s probiotic backing.

“The support for further research and harmonisation of ongoing studies is fair and rational. These are words I would not use for EFSA’s lame and misguided opinions on the same issue. Well done NCCAM for looking at the science not the marketing.”

Professor Gregor Reid from the Canadian R&D Centre for Probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute welcomed the NCCAM statement.

“I'm not sure why there is continued surprise that the rest of the world recognises the proven documentation on probiotics just because a few EFSA reviewers don't understand good science on products.”

In its statement, the NCCAM said it was linking its probiotic research with the work of the NIH Human Microbiome Project, the Food and Drug Administration and US Department of Agriculture, "to share resources and expertise, harmonize technology standards and translational tools, develop biomarkers, and facilitate progress in research and regulatory policy."

Great value

Like Gibson, Svend Laulund, manager of external affairs at Chr Hansen and regulatory committee member at the International Probiotics Association, the European Food and Feed Cultures Association (EFFCA) and the Yoghurt and Live Fermented Milk Association (YLFA), picked out biomarker research as possibly having the most effect beyond US shores.

“The results of the research that NCCAM will work on together with the NIH Human Microbiome Project, the FDA and USDA, can be of great value,”​ he said, in biomarkers and more.

“In a time where the negative stories about the EU process on food health claims, it is edifying to read [the five-year plan],”​ he said, while noting it was about CAMs, with its medicinal implication to treat disaease (even though the NCCAM interpretation is quite broad and acknowledges the role dietary supplements play in promoting wellness).

“The way EFSA interprets its task, health claims are for healthy people to stay healthy. It seems that the majority of publications that report beneficial effects do not solely include healthy individuals and in this way are not fulfilling the criteria in Europe.”

The NCCAM five-year plan can be found here​ .

To find out the latest in probiotic scientific, regulatory and marketing developments, be sure to register for the NutraIngredients Pre- and Probiotics virtual conference on March 29. Find out more here.

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