The addition of probiotics of different bacterial species and strains to regular foods, including infant formulas and cereal-based baby foods, is increasing.
Furthermore, a number of studies have indicated the role of probiotics in immunological, digestive and respiratory functions and their effect in alleviating infectious disease in children as well as adults.
In May 2009, Norway’s Food Safety Authority asked the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) to assess the benefits and risks of adding bacterium, Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei F19, in two processed cereal-based baby foods.
The request was prompted by notifications to the Authority in 2008 and 2009 about the foods and the Norwegian food safety agency’s concerns that a daily supply of a monoculture of a particular bacterial strain in large quantities to an age group without a fully established intestinal flora “may have unknown adverse effects.”
The VKM based its assessment on the literature provided by the notifier as well as that found by a MEDLINE search.
No dose-response studies
The Norwegian assessor said it was not able to evaluate the possible health risks related to the daily consumption of cereal-based food containing F19 as it found no published dose-response studies of F19 in children, “neither regarding survival of F19 in the gastrointestinal tract, nor possible negative health effects.”
It did note one study indicating a positive effect of Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. Paracasei F19 given to infants aged between 4 and 13 months on the development of eczema.
But, in its review, the VKM remarks: “The positive health effects claimed for processed cereal-based food containing Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei F19 are not scientifically substantiated.”
And, continued the Scientific Committee, any health claims on the cereal products in question, including “good for gut health”, “strengthens the immune system” or “has a health promoting effect for children and adults” are thus not evidence-based.
The VKM commented that, as a result, no conclusions can be drawn as to positive effects from F19 in children between the ages of 1 to 3 years.
And the experts added that to the best of their knowledge, Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei F19 has not been assessed for its ability to metabolise whole grains containing fibre components.
“In order to be able to draw any conclusions regarding beneficial effects of F19, there is a need for randomized placebo-controlled studies in larger populations and in the relevant age group,” said the Scientific Committee.
VKM has previously published four assessments of the use of probiotics.