A probiotics fad has resulted in a significant increase in use throughout developed countries because of the health benefits they deliver. Previously, the idea of probiotics was debated as there were few scientific studies to verify their benefits; however, thousands of studies in the last ten years have provided the scientific basis required to support previous theories regarding probiotics.
In developing countries, probiotics are uncommon. Although the lack of probiotics might not appear to be a significant public health dilemma, benefits from probiotics may help reduce foodborne illnesses and food spoiling.
The World Health Organization recently released a document emphasizing the international effects of foodborne illness. Developing countries suffer greatly from these illnesses and children under the age of five are especially at risk due to a lack of safe food, underdeveloped immunity, and malnutrition.
Most foodborne illness are caused by spoilage, which allows rampant microbial growth that depletes nutrients, increases pathogen ratios, and ultimately reduces the availability of safe foods. Unlike the United States and other developed countries where fresh food is abundant, regions where food is difficult to obtain may rely on spoiled products as a food source despite the risks involved.
Researchers believe probiotics may help play a role in mitigating this problem. Fermented foods, which contain beneficial bacteria, help preserve food safety and nutrition. The fermenting process is recognized as a safe way to help preserve food safety and nutrition. Fermented foods, which are used widely throughout the world, usually have longer shelf lives, increased nutrient value, and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Despite this, some areas of the world do not have probiotics readily available. Some regions may use specific strains to produce small batches, but these once again do not solve the bigger problem. Scientists and international leaders have discussed fermentation to these regions for decades, however, there are few resources to make this a sustainable option.
The search for the right probiotics
Recently though, researchers revealed a solution to this problem by developing a combination of probiotics, which can cheaply ferment a variety of foods. After studying the metabolism of specific strains, the researchers found two bacteria that worked well together, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which are well studied and have known health benefits. Researchers then studied the most cost-effective way to deliver probiotics to developing regions.
A dried seed culture solved the remaining dilemma. Large batches of the bacterial cultures were grown in hopes of achieving 5 to 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs). Testing then ensued to guarantee the probiotics survived and were effective.
After confirming the delivery of probiotics was effective, a wide range of foods, including milk, fruit, and cereal-based food, were fermented. L. rhamnosus often has metabolic limitations when cultured in milk, however, the addition of S. thermophilus allowed the researchers to overcome this. The products made were regarded as safe: the levels of pathogens in all products were lower than the required concentration to cause infection or were otherwise not detected.
For now, the public health value has outshined the scientific success of the study. Currently, 46 dairy co-ops and farmers use seed cultures. Over 25,000 people have been provided with safe, fermented foods. In the future, researchers plan to expand this study and eventually test for additional health benefits derived from fermented foods.
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“Global burden of foodborne disease.” World Health Organization. (2015). http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/foodborne_disease/fergreport/en/
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Kort, R., Westerik, N., Mariela Serrano, L., “A novel consortium of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Streptococcus thermophilus for increased access to functional fermented foods.” Microbial Cell Factories. (2015). 14:195; DOI: 10.1186/s12934-015-0370-x