We analyze if the fame of probiotic yogurts is justified and if they really provide benefits when it comes to improving defenses.
In recent years, many companies have substantially increased their economic benefits through the creation of various " functional foods ", whose supposed objective is "to maintain or enhance our immune system ", at a more than high price.
Among all these products, Danone's Actimel stood out, although it is not the only example, since the copies of this product have multiplied over the years in the same way that its slogan has been copied. Essentially, Actimel and the like show off the use of another cutting-edge fad: probiotics, live microorganisms that can theoretically improve our intestinal health and our immune system.
Today we will briefly review the history of Actimel (and how it had to change its catchphrase due to a lack of scientific evidence), and why probiotics still require a lot of research.
Actimel: From L. casei to fortification with vitamin B6
Initially, the Actimel brand in particular boasted of being able to provide through its small cans of plain and simple fermented milk the exclusive lactobacillus " L. casei immunitas " (or Lactobacillus Casei DN-114 001), to which they associated multiple benefits to " help the good functioning of the immune system ".
In fact, Actimel received multiple "awards" for its advertising lies in various countries, and even the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in 2010 gave it a hard blow by rejecting in a report more than twenty investigative works who claimed to support the dubious benefits of taking Actimel.
Subsequently, according to the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU), Actimel not only had to withdraw the word “immunitas” from its L. casei, but also had to change the focus of its marketing. As EFSA rejected their studies, what Actimel (and other foods of the same style) did was enrich their product with the minimum necessary amount of vitamin B6, an amount sufficient to be able to say without breaking the law that “vitamin B6 contributes to normal functioning of the immune system” and that “the consumption of one unit a day ACCOMPANIED with a healthy diet and lifestyle is recommended”. Suddenly Lactobacillus casei It was no longer good for anything, although it continues to cover the front page of this type of product.
In fact, there is currently no evidence that the lack of an external supply of vitamin B6 harms our immune system, but it is quite easy to get this vitamin through food and without any supplementation: in wheat germ, meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains ... In fact, a simple banana provides more than 3 times the amount of vitamin B6 that a bottle of Actimel would provide (and at a much lower price).
Are probiotic yogurts necessary to improve health?
The reality is that today, among liquid and solid yogurts, among other products, probiotics have almost become a " magic ingredient" that works for everything.
Although it is true that intestinal bacteria or intestinal microbiome have been linked to multiple diseases, from brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s, to playing a key role in the youth of the human body, this does not mean that we need an external contribution to maintain our healthy gut.
Supposedly, the consumption of probiotics in the form of supplementation would strengthen the body's defenses, something that makes sense knowing the great relationship that the gastrointestinal system -and its intestinal bacteria in particular- has with the immune system. These " bugs " are totally necessary to maintain an optimal level of health, and it is also logical to think that the more we take care of them, the better health we will have.
For this reason, theoretically, probiotics would contribute more beneficial bacteria to this diversity of microorganisms that inhabit our intestines. However, as dietologist James Kinross, from Imperial College London, told the BBC news network in his day, not everything is as easy as it seems.
According to Kinross, while probiotics are consumed, they remain in the gastrointestinal system; however, when they stop taking them, the body expels them. In the event that they have beneficial effects (something that does not always happen because each person is different), they will only work for a limited time (that is, if they do work), and no study has guaranteed that they have the same effects in all the world, as each person has a different intestinal system, populated by a totally different variety of intestinal bacteria.
Also, Kinross says that there is still little evidence regarding the fact that probiotics can improve health or extend life. There is only some evidence that they can improve symptoms in patients with specific cases of diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome.
A healthy diet, the best alternative to probiotic yogurts
The reality is that, with the scientific evidence currently available on probiotics, the best alternative that has proven to be reliable is to carry out a healthy diet, providing the fresher food the better, and avoiding any processed food and added sugar.
The current approach is that, being able to care for and improve your own intestinal bacteria, why add new bacteria? And this is achieved by "feeding" them well, by consuming these fresh foods, and especially by consuming fiber. But not just any type of fiber; specifically, MAC fiber or microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, the indigestible part of the food we eat (fiber), but which can be metabolized by our bacteria.
In other words, MACs are fiber, but not just any fiber is MAC.
This type of fiber can be found in plants, algae, mushrooms, spices and animal tissues, and has been shown to increase the diversity of the microbiome, providing a greater metabolic balance in the body and a lower risk of cardiometabolic and autoimmune diseases. In fact, several studies ensure that a diet low in MACs would increase the risk of diseases by altering the balance of the intestinal microbiome.
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