It is very difficult to find another product category that is being so widely researched and experiencing the rate of innovative product development as the world of probiotics (as well as prebiotics and their combination, known as synbiotics).

Here’s a review of what’s been happening in the research sector.

A bit of a nomenclature shakeup is set to occur this year, as there will be a taxonomic reclassification of the genus Lactobacillus, as reported by Nutrition Insight. According to this industry source, this means that many commercial species (and their strains) will be given a new moniker. For example, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus sakei, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactobacillus brevis will eventually be sporting new names. Industry is quick to reassure that quality and efficacy will remain the same: it’s merely a bacteria by any other name.

The following species will retain their current names: Lactobacillus delbrueckii, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus johnsonii, Lactobacillus helveticus and Pediococcus. Trivia: did you know that the first species named was L. delbrueckii? (You might have thought it was L. acidophilus, the first probiotic superstar available in health food stores’ refrigerators!)

“Any reclassification might confuse consumers, but the scientific community, as well as industry, should explain to the customers that there is no concern. This is due to the history of safe use and the safety analyses we are obliged to perform in the registration process,” Dr. Stefan Pelzer, Head of Biotechnological Innovation of Evonik’s Animal Nutrition business line, assuaged readers of NutritionInsight.

“Driven by the access to modern sequencing technologies generating a vast number of new bacterial genome sequences in a short time, the scientific community is facing frequent reclassification of known bacterial species. New sequences help to create a higher resolution in phylogenetic strain analyses. Sometimes, this results in the reclassification of numerous known strains,” he added.

The article went on to explain why the reclassification was necessary; it reflects the 2018 genome sequence analysis that revealed a very wide-ranging diversity in phenotypes and genotypes within the Lactobacillus genus. Researchers are ruminating about the number of genera assigned to the Lactobacillaceae family, potentially growing the number from three to 26.

This will provide outstanding and exciting new product launch opportunities, given the fact that, according to Innova Market Insights, 10% of supplement launches worldwide were in the probiotic category, compared to only 3% in both 2015 and 2016. This same report noted that probiotic shots particularly have shown fast growth in this industry.

So, green tea and probiotics anyone? Whatta cuppa health! South Korean cosmetics conglomerate Amorepacific’s R&D Center has launched the Green Tea Probiotics Research Center to further study a newly found Lactobacillus plantarum in Jeju island’s organic green tea variety. According to Amorepacific, the goal is to develop innovative, relevant products featuring the strain in supplements, foods and topicals (e.g. cosmetics). The group asserted that Lactobacillus plantarum has been found to survive and persist better in the intestinal tract than conventional strains, as well as providing antibacterial, antibiotic-resistant properties. Also, the company aims to globally expand competitive microorganism research and its related technologies. A recently published study confirmed that this green tea-derived strain was able to reduce inflammatory factors in the stomach.

In other probiotic research news, a team investigated the effects of three months of daily intake of Probi Defendum, a combination of strains Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL9 and Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2, reduced the severity of common colds in Swedish children aged one to six years who attended daycare. The results showed that this combination of strains may reduce nasal congestion and the need for concomitant medication. The children who took the probiotic blend also showed reduced absence from daycare, according to the study authors.

Meanwhile, another probiotic combination has been clinically studied for a specific outcome. The blend of the strains Lactobacillus paracasei DSM 13434, Lactobacillus plantarum DSM 15312 and Lactobacillus plantarum DSM 15313 was shown to help lower rate of bone loss in post-menopausal women. In this study, 234 early menopausal women were randomly assigned to consume either placebo or probiotic supplements consisting of three Lactobacillus strains (Lactobacillus paracasei DSM 13434, Lactobacillus plantarum DSM 15312, and Lactobacillus plantarum DSM 15313) once daily for 12 months. The primary outcome was the percentage change from baseline in lumbar spine bone mineral density (LS-BMD) at 12 months. At the end of this study, the researchers observed that the LS-BMD loss was significant in the placebo group whereas no bone loss was observed in the Lactobacillus-treated group. The authors concluded that supplementation of the three Lactobacillus strains “protects against lumbar spine bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women.”

And new research shows that several strains may help counteract stress-induced anxiety and depression behaviors. The team analyzed 12 probiotics and found that in mice, Lactobacillus paracasei Lpc-37®, Lactobacillus plantarum LP12407, Lactobacillus plantarum LP12418, and Lactobacillus plantarum LP12151 prevented stress-associated anxiety- and depression-related behaviors from developing compared with chronically stressed mice in the placebo group. In addition, Lpc-37®, LP12407 and LP12418 prevented development of stress-associated cognitive impairment. They write, “These promising results may have future implications in the development of novel probiotic supplements which may offer a benefit to humans feeling the negative effects of daily stress.”

Those individuals who have psoriasis may also soon be able to benefit from probiotics thanks to a new partnership between a skin health life science company and a specialist in research and development of probiotic foods and supplements. The unnamed blend of probiotics will be subjected to a 12- to 18-month clinical study in individuals with mild to moderate psoriasis starting sometime this year. “There is strong scientific evidence pointing to a link between gut dysfunction, stress-induced alterations to the gut microbiome and skin inflammation,” said Stuart Ashman, CEO of SkinBioTherapeutics. “We believe that we can create a specific probiotic food supplement that has the potential to help manage the hard-to-treat symptoms of psoriasis.”

More research is revealing the after-effects, if you will, of taking probiotics. It is understood that probiotics create a favorable ecosystem balance, preventing irrelevant and potentially pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence, and prebiotics feed the community of benevolent bacteria. Now, one study shows that what good bacteria produce may in turn benefit systemic health.

In this study, researchers found that a compound called 4-Cresol made by intestinal flora, exhibits protective effects against type 1 and type 2 diabetes by stimulating the proliferation and function of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. According to the researchers, these results create a pathway for development of new therapeutic options that could improve blood sugar profiles for millions of individuals.

Microbiomes can differ in species amounts in groups of individuals, such as athletes. New research looked at differences in gut microbiomes across various sports classification groups (SCGs) among athletes, many of whom competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The researchers noted distinct differences in the composition and functional capacity of the gut microbiome of athletes across SCGs. They write, “The microbiomes of athletes participating in sports with a high dynamic component were the most distinct compositionally (greater differences in proportions of species), while those of athletes participating in sports with high dynamic and static components were the most functionally distinct (greater differences in functional potential).”

Conclusion

Research is always fascinating, but probably not as much as in the world of the microbiome and its resident bacteria. Scientists are revealing links between specific strains and health outcomes, some new, some validating. And this investigative realm is only going to grow!

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