Monday, February 4, 2008

Activia, Yoplait, Similar Products, and Gas Control

Dannon Yogurt has struck a $100-million bonanza in their probiotic digestive aid, Activia. "Probiotic" means "pro-life," and the bacteria in Dannon Activia are purported not only to help us digest our food, but to confer us with superimmunity.

Dannon, Stonyfield Farms, Yoplait, Attune, Kashi Vive, and Kraft LiveActive aren't just making this up. There are credible scientific studies to support the proposition that eating beneficial bacteria may reduce childhood eczema, irritable bowel syndrome in adults, diarrhea, and urinary tract infections. But do probiotic yogurts, cheeses, cereals, and energy bars deliver the good bacteria in a form the body can use?

Unfortunately, the answer is usually "no."

The first sign that a carton of yogurt isn't going to provide you with probiotic bacteria is the expiration date. A long expiration date (say, 3 months from the date of purchase) is a dead giveaway that the yogurt has been heat-treated to extend its shelf life--killing the very cultures that you buy it for!

It doesn't make any difference to your health that the manufacturer started out with a "live culture" if they kill it when they put it in the package.

And even if your product contains actualy "live cultures," the acid in your stomach typically destroys most of the helpful bacteria that survive processing and packaging.

What you really need for digestive health is probiotics in a form that can survive digestion in your stomach to arrive in the intestine where they can do you good. And to survive digestion, that is, for more than about 1 per cent of the bacteria in the product to survive digestion, you need your useful bacteria in the form of an enteric-coated capsule. Enteric coating enables the beneficial bacteria to pass to the intestine without being dissoved with your food.

So what else do you need in a really useful probiotic supplement besides an enteric coating?

If the product does not have at least one billion live organisms per dose, it can't do you any good.

And if it has more grams of sugar than a candy bar, it's probably not going to help you, either.

You need a product with as many of the different kinds of useful bacteria as you can get, not just one strain:

Bifidobacterium bifidum
Bifidobacterium breve
Bifidobacterium longum
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Lactobacillus lactis, and
Lactobacillus rhamnosus

And with encapsulated probiotic supplements, you still need to look at the expiration date, but because the bacteria are dormant while they're in the capsule, it can be a little longer than for yogurt, cheese, and functional foods. Supplements retain their potency for up to a year. If it's more than a year old, throw it out.

If Activia or a similar product seems to have done you some good, it's not all in your head. Some of the bacteria in the heavily advertised probiotic products actually do survive processing, packaging, and digestion in your stomach. But you'll get much better results with no calories or sugar from a supplement, not a food.

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