This month, Wiley will release Probiotics and Health Claims, a book that investigates the food, feed, and pharmaceutical applications and assessment procedures of probiotics around the world. We sat down with the book’s two editors, Wolfgang Kneifel and Seppo Salminen, to pick their brains about what, exactly, the term “probiotics” means, and how they predict probiotics will be used in the future.
What are probiotic microorganisms?
The scientific definition has undergone some revision during the last decades. Briefly, probiotics are live microorganisms which exert certain beneficial properties to the host (human or animal) depending on their activity and cell density. The spectrum of effects seems to be increasing, and the mechanisms of action are not fully investigated so far, consequently opening up interesting perspectives for future research.
What are some of the most common ways probiotics are used in commercial products?
In principle, there are three types of probiotic vehicles: food products (of which fermented dairy products can be regarded as the dominating segment), pharmaceutical preparations and dietary supplements (which come in different formats, ranging from capsules to tablets, drops and powders), and probiotic feeds.
How are probiotics developed?
Usually, the development process of probiotics is a multidisciplinary one, where microbiologists, medical experts, nutritionists and technologists are cooperating. When formulating a defined product, these scientists start with an extensive screening of isolate candidates and then consider individual properties (e.g. identity and taxonomy, safety, stability, resistance, functional and technological criteria). Often, probiotics have been selected out of hundreds of possible candidates. They are assessed not only in laboratory tests and models, but also in dynamic models, followed by clinical trials under double-blind placebo-controlled conditions. Further in-depth information is contained in our book.
Are probiotics ever used for harm instead of health?
Never. If so, they would not carry the name “probiotic”.
What do you think the future holds for companies and products which seek to make health claims?
There is some evidence that both sides—i.e. the applicant (industry) as well as the assessing bodies—are undergoing a demanding period of progress and development. Very few probiotic claims worldwide have been officially endorsed. As discussion is still ongoing on this subject, it is difficult to foresee to what degree food product development, in general, will be affected health claim regulation in the future.
What is the most important piece of advice you can offer to non-scientists regarding probiotics?
Advice of scientists to non-scientists needs to be simple and meaningful. In this context, scientists should be able to produce these sorts of statements, such as the following: “Probiotics can be regarded as the most prominent pacesetters bridging the two areas health and food like no other product. Probiotic foods are not to be seen necessarily as therapeutics, but they are a proper and attractive way of improving well-being, preventing discomfort, and reducing the risk of diseases.”
What inspired you to study Food Science?
It was mainly the challenge of this topic’s inherent interdisciplinary nature.
In your lifetime, what would you consider to be the most significant scientific discovery in Food Science?
Different milestones can be seen in the development of Food Sciences during the last 20-30 years, e.g. the invention of new processes guaranteeing maximum preservation of important nutrients and maintaining product quality and shelf-life. However, one particularly notable development is the advance of international networking for food safety issues. There is no doubt that food crises have shaken consumers as well as producers; however, the number of food crises has not increased. Rather, food crises have become more easily and readily recognizable due to global monitoring and control mechanisms, which causes them to appear to have become more numerous.
Related work from these authors Handbook of Probiotics and Prebiotics, 2nd Edition
by Yuan Kun Lee and Seppo Salminen