Speaking at the recent Probiota conference in Barcelona, Dr Rijkers’ outlined a series of insights his team unearthed after conducting an IPA-supported review of over 1,000 ongoing probiotic-related studies.
One observation was the emergence of Europe as a global hot spot for probiotic research and innovation – a surprise considering the recent progress made with best practice guidelines that promote quality, safety and scientific rigor.
While Dr Rijkers acknowledges that US sales of these products were accelerating, their appreciation has been perhaps slow to materialise.
“It’s really difficult to pinpoint,” Dr Rijkkers explains. “Most studies are being done in collaboration with academic researchers and clinicians alongside companies.
“I think that the general feeling for the value of probiotics in Europe is more developed than in the US.
“I think the US lacks a bit behind although you now see sales coming up but the whole concept of probiotics was developed earlier in Europe.
“Maybe, in the future there will be more studies in the US but we will have to see. Right now Europe is still the hotspot for clinical studies for probiotics.”
‘A health claim is an intermediate’
Dr Rijkers, a professor of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University College Roosevelt in the Netherlands, places little emphasis on current difficulties in obtaining a probiotic health claim.
His view is that consumer acceptance will always supersede an accreditation or approval, which he describes as merely an “intermediate stage” in convincing an audience.
“Probiotics are a novel way to target metabolic diseases, especially non fatty liver diseases,” he said.
“Virtually all these studies are being done on patients. The current regulatory landscape dictates that evidence obtained with patients cannot be used for a health claim application.
“So if we disregard the necessity for having a health claim but can convince the general public that a certain probiotic is beneficial for inflammatory bowel diseases, I think that would be sufficient to get it accepted.
“I sometimes compare the situation to a grocery store selling oranges. They don’t have to advertise their oranges with a health claim for vitamin C. The oranges sell themselves because everyone is already convinced that eating fresh oranges is good for your health.
“So in my view, having a health claim is an intermediate stage in convincing the public at large of something that is good for you.”