Yogurts: Are They Really Probiotic?
Probiotic Yogurts are not Probiotic
If you are eating probiotic yogurt because you have irritable bowel symptoms such as bloating, gas, or even to prevent colds, flu or recurrent bladder infections, you may not be getting your money’s worth.
Studies show that many probiotics sold in grocery stores contain too few good bacteria to offer any health benefits at all.
That conclusion was reached after a review of 92 probiotic products sold in Canadian grocery stores just published in the journal Nutrients.
Probiotic yogurts may still provide some nutrition but they are not providing the health benefits that you would expect of them based on their advertising.
Probiotics are live organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, yeasts) that, when consumed in certain amounts, exert health benefits.
They are identified by their genus, species and strain. For example, for the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM (found in Astro’s BioBest yogurt) the genus is Lactobacillus, the species is acidophilus and the strain is NCFM.
Different species and strains deliver different benefits and their effects may vary from person to person. Because each of us has a unique microbiota, we may respond differently to probiotics.
Once reaching the large intestine, most of all probiotic organisms inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria, regulate bowel transit time and help maintain a health microbiota. (microbiota refers to the population of tens of trillions of micro-organisms that reside in your large intestine.)
Other probiotic benefits are found only among certain species. The ones that that regulate immune function and brain health are strain-specific. They can prevent or treat a host of health conditions including respiratory tract infections, eczema, traveller’s diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
So-called probiotic yogurts
In Canada, all yogurts are made with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles bacteria which are NOT recognized as bacteria by Health Canada. These yogurts are still a good source of protein, calcium, magnesium and zinc but they do not contain beneficial therapeutic bacterial cultures.
Some yogurt manufacturers have added pre-approved probiotic strains so they can claim to deliver health benefits but the amount is too low to provide any benefit at all.
To be called a probiotic food, yogurt must contain at least one billion live colony-forming units (active probiotic cultures) of a recognized probiotic species per serving.
Danone’s Activia yogurt, for example, contains the patented probiotic strain B.L. Regularis, which has been shown in clinical trials to lessen abdominal pain and bloating in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
The company’s DanActive drinkable yogurt has L.casei Danone DN114-001, a well -studied strain associated with a reduced incidence of cold or flu, as well as fewer asthmatic episodes in children.
Do probiotic yogurts really work?
Just because the probiotic has a strain that works against a variety of symptoms, does not mean that it contains a sufficient dose of that strain to be therapeutically active.
The newly published probiotic product review, conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, revealed that most probiotic foods fell short. Some, in fact, contained up to 25 times less than what clinical trials have deemed effective.
For instance you would need to eat anywhere from eight to 25 servings of Danone’s Activia yogurt to consume the dose of its probiotic strain shown to reduce bloating and improve stool consistency.
And you would have to consume 20 daily servings of Astro BioBest yogurt to get the number of bacteria shown to reduce the incidence of fever, cough and runny nose.
The obstacle of current labelling
Manufacturers will always take advantage of loop-holes in the law and with Health Canada there are plenty.
Under our current labelling regulations, probiotic foods must contain one billion live probiotic cultures per serving to be able to state the general claim “contributes to healthy gut flora.”
That means there is no pressure to add more and unfortunately this is too low a dose to help anybody at all. It is simply a nutritious desert.
The World Health Organization however, recommends that where scientific evidence exists, strain-specific probiotic health claims that would link a product to a specific health benefit should be allowed.
If strain-specific claims were allowed in Canada, manufacturers would have an incentive to add the effective dose of probiotic bacteria confirmed in clinical trials.
Because probiotic yogurts do not live up to their full potential, you can still eat them for their nutritional value. Some people add kefir to their diet. This fermented milk product, typically sold as a beverage, is made with a mixture of 10 to 20 different types of bacteria and yeasts.
The University of Toronto review found that kefir products had the greatest variety and often the highest dosages of probiotic strains. However, these strains have not been studied so their specific health benefits are unknown.
If you really want to be sure that you are getting therapeutic dose of your probiotics, one that will prevent gas, bloating and a number of infections then buy an over-the-counter supplement.
There are many out there but when I look at all of them and try to determine the best product for the best price, I come up with Naka’s Nutri Probiotic, a 45 billion mixed culture that does not require refrigeration. I take them myself, one every day, because I feel that probiotics have become one of the most important daily supplements to guarantee good health.