U.S. and European researchers found probiotic consumption could have a positive impact on the health of people with flu-like respiratory tract infections. This would translate into cost savings for both patients and the economy. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, was sponsored by Chr. Hansen.
The independent analysis showed generalized probiotic intake would have allowed cost savings from 2.2 million fewer antibiotic prescriptions, more than 54 million fewer sick days annually and averting $919 million in annual productivity losses.
The study found that probiotic bacterial strains interact with the microbiome and help develop and maintain a healthy immune system, FoodBev Media noted.
These study results could be suspect because Chr. Hansen makes probiotic ingredients. However, the researchers noted the company was not involved in the study design; the data collection, analysis or interpretation; or in the writing.
Regardless of the funding, it's not surprising that researchers found a positive correction between consuming the live microorganisms and savings in the healthcare system and the wider economy. The use of probiotics and prebiotics is expected to significantly grow due to their reputation for relieving digestive issues, boosting the immune system and contributing to the maintenance of balanced gut microbiota, or "good" bacteria.
According to DuPont, which recently built a $100-million probiotics fermentation facility in New York, more than 16 million U.S. households buy probiotics for a variety of reasons, including digestive and immune health, weight management and improving cognition.
These study results are likely to enhance the reputation and consumer interest in probiotics even more — which could then increase the number of food and beverage products that include them.
Probiotics are being incorporated in yogurt products from Danone and Chobani, and they're appearing in Kellogg's Special K Nourish line, as well as in tea, coffee, baked goods, ice cream, granola and bars. Most recently, General Mills announced it was partnering with GoodBelly on a probiotic-infused cereal.
A number of other products are being touted as good sources of probiotics, including kefir, which is a fermented drink made from milk; sauerkraut and kimchi, both made from fermented cabbage; soy products such as miso, tempeh and soy sauce; kombucha, which is fermented green or black tea; sourdough bread; and pickles.
No doubt the use of probiotics will continue to increase as the demand rises. BCC Research has projected the probiotics market will grow to $50 billion globally by next year from $32 billion in 2014.
This trend is being driven by consumer awareness and interest in the microbiome and achieving a healthier gut to aid the immune system. This "food as medicine" movement also is bringing in hospitals and health systems that believe it's a more effective and less expensive way to treat chronic diseases.
As the microbiome's connection with human health becomes better understood, it's possible more consumers will turn to probiotics to help them — with the added potential of saving their healthcare dollars at the same time.