What is probiotic

Food with special bacterial cultures (formerly: "probiotics")

What's behind the advertisement?

So-called "probiotic" bacteria pass through the stomach undamaged and should develop their effect in the intestine. For years advertising had promised that probiotic yoghurt, more precisely yoghurt with probiotic bacteria, activates the immune system and has a positive effect on intestinal activity. But the manufacturers could not prove these statements about the health effects.

All statements on probiotics that have so far been checked by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have therefore been rated negatively and are not included in the EU positive list with the permitted health-related claims. Legally, even the term "probiotics" is considered a non-approved health-related claim and, in the opinion of the Federal Court of Justice, may not be used on baby food either.

Manufacturers have now deleted the word "probiotic" from their vocabulary and from their packaging. Information on the bacterial strains used is still given - for example, "contains 6.5 billion unique Shirota cultures" or "Lactobacillus casei culture" - but instead of the probiotic bacteria, vitamins such as C, B6 or D are now responsible for the effect made and "contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system". A legal trick, because health claims are approved by the EU for the vitamins mentioned.

Manufacturers of probiotic foods (including dietary supplements) who add certain amounts of vitamin C to their products are therefore still allowed to advertise a beneficial effect on the immune system, but must present this in connection with a nutrient such as a vitamin. Practice shows that this trick is often used.

Some products also contain special fiber that serves as "food" for some of these bacteria.

Certain probiotic bacteria may be helpful in the treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel disease. For example, there are approved probiotic drugs that have been able to prove their claims to be effective in studies. Whether and which bacterial strain is useful depends on the disease and should be discussed with the doctor. Research is currently being carried out in Luxembourg, for example, on its use during chemotherapy. Medical products with bacterial strains are currently advertised particularly frequently. The new EU Medical Device Regulation (2017/745) will apply from May 2021, which means that living bacteria in medical devices will be excluded in the future.

Good to know:
Dairy products with live yoghurt cultures may - provided they contain a sufficient amount - bear the following health claim: The digestion of the lactose (milk sugar) contained in the product is prevented by live cultures in yoghurt or fermented milk in people who have lactose digestion problems Lactose intolerance), improved.

What should I pay attention to when using it?

  • There are no concerns for healthy people. However, some products contain a lot of sugar (and calories), so you should always take a look at the nutritional table before buying to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • If you eat or drink a lot of products with additional vitamins, you should make sure that the daily amounts of added vitamins are not too high. Unfortunately, there are no maximum amounts here, so the recommended maximum amounts for dietary supplements can be used as a substitute.
  • Some baby foods are sold with the addition of special bacterial cultures, which are said to have health-promoting properties for babies (e.g. fewer infections). According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (2020), however, no health benefits can be derived from this addition from the data available so far. Overall, there are only very few studies with healthy infants, so that there are no reliable statements about the safety of the microorganisms, even if the test results currently available do not give any indications of adverse effects in healthy infants.
  • The safety of probiotic foods (including dietary supplements) for health-weakened risk groups (especially for diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and immunocompromised people) is discussed again and again and has not been conclusively clarified. If you suffer from a chronic illness, to be on the safe side, discuss its use with your doctor before consumption.

Sour milk products from the refrigerated shelves such as yoghurt, kefir, ayran, lassi or sour milk, but also lactic-acid fermented beans, carrots or sauerkraut have a positive influence on the intestinal flora and thus possibly also on the immune system.

However, there is more to an intestinal-friendly diet: a high-fiber diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grain products and pulses and plenty of drink.

It is also important to move around regularly, preferably outdoors, if possible, leave the bus and car parked more often and use the stairs instead of the elevator.