Patience is something that biotech company Symprove has had to learn in bucketfuls over the last few years but customer Lynette McMeekin could not keep her experiences to herself a moment longer. “People need to know about Symprove and the work the company is doing. I’ve been a customer for some time now and the Daily Mail often runs stories on probiotics and Symprove is totally different.”
As a probiotic food supplement, Symprove is regulated by the Food Standards Agency and like any other probiotic product on the market today, cannot make health claims or mention symptoms or condition. The only way a company can, is by going through the official channels and these are directed by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). Even then, companies have to put in specific health claims for approval and to date, not one probiotic company has been given the thumbs-up. It’s tough and particularly if companies have carried out extensive human studies, as the rules say, you can’t refer to studies either. Getting through the EFSA process can also take some time, anything from 6 months to a year.
Having said all this, the company Symprove feel strongly, that a reasonable amount of regulation is needed in its industry sector. “As an ethical company, we have a responsibility to our customers and the industry as a whole, and whilst we can’t make health claims right now, we’re working hard towards proving the efficacy of Symprove. Tough measures are needed and some probiotic companies recognise the importance and value of meeting and managing consumer expectations,” says CEO Mike Butler. He went on to say, “Of course, it’s a challenge and an unusual position to be in, as not many companies or industry sectors are restricted in the way they can talk about product benefits so we have to try that much harder. We very much rely on our customers spreading the word.”
Of course, there are lots of ways for people to find out how to assess which probiotics are best for them. The FAO/WHO also gives specific guidelines but in essence, if you follow these principles, you’ll be able to make informed decisions:
Choose a probiotic which doesn’t trigger digestion in the stomach. Any probiotic contained in yoghurt or a food does
Make sure the company talks about the delivery system and what this does to ‘safely’ transport bacteria through the stomach to the gut. Probiotic bacteria struggle in acidic environments and find it difficult to cope with any extremes, needing some sort of protection or shield.
Choose a probiotic where the bacteria are ‘alive’ and ready to get to work from the moment they are swallowed and opt for multiple strains too. Individual numbers of bacteria are one thing but rather than focus on tens of billions, think quality and colonies – or CFUs – and what the bacteria are able to do to establish these units efficiently and quickly.
Think carefully before buying freeze-dried probiotics. Taking live bacteria down to temperatures of (minus) -80⁰C affects their functionality and they are no longer ‘alive’. Hanging around in this state for any length of time can’t be good, and when swallowed, for many it’s some hours before they can do anything. When capsules or powders are rehydrated, many of them have lost their ‘limbs’ or pili. Research has shown that pili are believed to play a role in helping bacteria to adhere to the gut wall. Without them probiotic bacteria often end up way beyond where they need to be in the gut and cannot colonise.
And if companies do end up talking about the research they’ve done – make sure it’s done to Rome III criteria. This means studies have been carried out to the highest clinical standards – on humans – in spite of being a probiotic and you could say in this case, it’s even more important too!