Opinion

Can gut bugs promote good health?

Professor Buttriss: ‘The evidence base has grown’

The interest in bugs – in this case those that inhabit the human gut – continues to grow as research reveals the fascinating symbiotic relationships that exist between them and us, and the impact of these on our health.

For many years, there has been interest in the potential of foods and drinks containing viable bacterial cultures, known as ‘probiotics’, to interact with these relationships and thus, contribute to health.

No approved EU health claims

Nevertheless, no approved EU health claims have yet emerged. This has often been attributed to the poor characterisation of the bacterial cultures, or to the small subject numbers in studies limiting study power.

Reports of gastrointestinal discomfort are widespread in the adult population, especially women, and a beneficial role for probiotics in promoting gut health has been speculated.

Evidence base has grown

Over time, the evidence base has grown and a recent meta-analysis has pooled data for a specific dose and specific mix of Bifidobacterium lactis and four lactic acid bacteria strains, finding a significant effect in favour of a probiotic fermented milk.

This does not yet amount to authorisation of a health claim, but illustrates that progress is being made.

  • Professor Judy Buttriss is director general of the British Nutrition Foundation

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