Chances are you’ve seen “good bacteria” on store shelves.
They’re known as probiotics and are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry of health supplements.
Probiotics are similar to the beneficial bacteria found naturally in the human gut, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. These bacteria reduce harmful organisms in the intestine and stimulate the body’s immune system.
The probiotic supplements are often marketed as helping to prevent and treat digestive problems.
“(People are) starting to understand that it can be a very inexpensive and an easy fix,” said Wesley Cooke, an assistant manager at Sunflower Health Foods.
Demand worldwide is expected to reach almost $45 billion by 2018, according to a report by Transparency Market Research.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has been conducting research on probiotics.
“The proven research benefits of probiotics are not as bona fide as we would want them to be,” said Tyler Culpepper, a postdoctoral associate at UF. “There are lots of studies that show some conflicting things, but fortunately there are some things that are pretty well-represented and replicated.”
The proven benefits involve gastrointestinal health, and newer research is exploring possible benefits to immune health, weight maintenance and managing cholesterol, Culpepper said.
Probiotics, however, come in many strains and can affect people differently. Culpepper added that even the most reliable benefit of improving gastrointestinal symptoms may not work for everyone.
“Though it’s promising that probiotics are beneficial, we still need to lock in some of the mechanisms by which they work and try to find a way to tailor-make a probiotic cocktail for each individual person, so that they receive the maximum benefit,” Culpepper said.