Dispatches from the International Yakult Symposium

No health claims but probiotics remain on medical agenda

By Shane Starling from Berlin

- Last updated on GMT

Probiotics are widely recommended by medical bodies in Europe and beyond, the International Yakult Symposium was told
Probiotics are widely recommended by medical bodies in Europe and beyond, the International Yakult Symposium was told

Related tags Gastroenterology Irritable bowel syndrome Nutrition

Probiotics are yet to win a health claim in the European Union but they continue to receive backing by various bodies for gastrointestinal issues like diarrhoea.

Agencies like the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) back certain probiotics for certain conditions, relayed researcher, Viola Andresen at a symposium hosted by Yakult in Berlin last week.

But she warned of “shortcomings”​ including the fact “no standardised approach for the use of probiotics has been established in any of the gastrointestinal diseases.”

Andresen said while human data was building – and was yet to impress the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – bodies like NICE recommended probiotics under certain circumstances like diarrhoea and vomiting in children and pouchitis (inflammation of artificial pouches inserted into patients undergoing a colectomy).

As an example, in the case of pouchitis NICE guidance from March 2014 states “probiotic food supplement can be effective for maintaining antibiotic-induced remission and for preventing pouchitis”.

The AGA states: Because there are different kinds of probiotics, it is important to find the right one for the specific health benefit you seek.”

In regard to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) it said more specifically: Probiotics, particularly ​Bifidobacterium infantis, Sacchromyces boulardii, Lactobacillus plantarum and combination probiotics may help regulate how often people with IBS have bowel movements.”

German medical authorities similarly issued guidelines stating certain probiotic strains could benefit IBS sufferers.

Andresen, from Israelitic Hospital in Hamburg, noted an IBS-focused meta-analysis of 35 clinical trials found probiotics were statistically superior to placebo.


Dr Serafini presented research linking probiotics & inflammation at the International Yakult Symposium in Berlin last week

A presentation from Mauro Serafini from the Functional Food and Metabolic Stress Prevention Laboratory at the Research Council for Agriculture and Nutrition in Rome, showed research linking probiotic consumption and reduced inflammation, especially in those on 'unbalanced diets'.

“We hypothesise that probiotics might play a role in mitigating oxidative and inflammatory stress induced by unbalanced energy meals through a modulation of endogenous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory defencesand contributing to the production of bioactive metabolites of flavonoids from microbiota,” ​Dr Serafini said.

Other presentations from Berlin looked into the role of probiotics in obesity, immunity, paediatrics, mental health, allergies, spinal cord injuries, HIV and prostate cancer.

In countries like Russia probiotics have long formed part of the mainstream medical world's arsenal of treatment and prevention options, especially in the paediatric field.

More about the programme is here​.

More about global probiotic guidelines can be found here​.

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