Even though more research needs to be done on the health benefits of probiotics – live human health-friendly bacteria – as a supplement, a variety of them in the forms of food such as drink, yogurt and, soft cheese, butter milk and ice cream are in the market and notching up sales.
Some of the key players are Yakult Danone, Nestle and Mother Dairy with their products such as Yakult, Nesvita and B-Active respectively.
Probiotics include lactobacillus and bifidobacteria and their various strains is claimed to improve overall health as well as some specific disorders. Owing to health benefits, probiotics are also referred as ‘good guys’.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), a healthy human’s intestinal flora contains certain bacteria which are important for the normal functioning of the gasto-intestinal tract and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Medication, certain foods in our diet and disease diminish the number of these beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
However, certain foods contain these beneficial bacteria and are called pro-biotic foods, while there are other foods which help in growth of these in the intestine and are called pre-biotic foods.
According to experts, probiotic foods improve the immunity system when the body’s digestive tract is healthy. Sunita Roy Choudhary, senior dietician, Rockland Hospital, says, “All products available in Indian market are basically fermented dairy products with various bacteria. They have almost the same effect as any other pro-biotic food and so have health benefits.”
Research has shown that probiotic foods improve gut flora. It also filters out and eliminates things that can damage it, such as harmful bacteria, toxins, chemicals and other waste products. “Probiotic foods help in diseases like diarrhoea, urinary tract infections, muscle pain, irritable and inflammatory bowel diseases and rheumatoid arthritis,” she says.
Neerja Hajela, PhD, Head – Science, Yakult Danone India says, probiotics have been available in India in the form of medicines for a very long time with doctors recommending them for specific conditions. However, as foods they became available only recently in 2007.
“Since most probiotics are available as foods there are no precautions that really need to be taken. But if one is critically ill it may be worthwhile consulting doctor,” says Neerja.
“Although probiotic foods are not known to produce any side effects, care must be taken while mixing too many probiotic foods. The type and quantity must be decided in consultation with doctors,” advises the dietician.
In India, the consumption of probiotics is in nascent stages and their maximum availability and sales are in metros like Delhi.
Yakult, which is promoted by Kajol, is selling as many as one lakh bottles in India on a daily basis and working to educate consumers and build awareness about probiotics.Though studies have shown health benefits of probiotics but more research still needs to be done to be sure of how safe and effective they are as a supplement and in foods.