Good Bacteria Goes Mainstream

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Good Bacteria Goes Mainstream

Probiotics isn’t yet a household word, but the concept it reflects will play a growing role in your life — and perhaps in your business. For a definition of the term, let’s look to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It says, “Probiotics are live microorganisms — in most cases, bacteria — that are similar to beneficial organisms found [naturally] in the human gut. They are also called ‘friendly bacteria’ or ‘good bacteria.’ [They] are available to consumers mainly in the form of dietary supplements and foods.”

These probiotics include bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. They work together in the digestive system, which is much “like a rain forest ecosystem.”

Probiotics isn’t a new development. But, in the years between 1994 and 2003, Americans’ use of probiotics nearly tripled.

As a recent Associated Press1 story pointed out, Dannon now sells a probiotic yogurt under the Activa brand name. Also, there are supplement pills, yogurts, smoothies, snack bars, and cereals — and even baby formula and chocolate. These products are marketed by some of the largest consumer products companies, including Dannon and Kraft, as well as a number of small boutique firms.

Generally, probiotic products make broad overarching claims about “regulating your digestive health” or “strengthening your body’s defenses,” which are hard to verify.

As a rule, independent experts are ambivalent about probiotics as a broad category. However, almost all of them acknowledge that the products are generally safe, and at least some of them can be helpful.

Much of the demand for the probiotics has been fueled by growing consumer awareness of the positive role that naturally-occurring intestinal bacteria play in health. The thinking among consumers is similar to the mindset that has driven vitamin sales: If something is good for you, won’t more of it be even better?

The probiotics market is also part of a burgeoning effort to capitalize on our obsession with health and aging. And it’s not just a hit in the United States: Probiotics are already popular in Europe, Asia, and South America.

One of the first and most well-known probiotic products is acidophilus-style milk. It reduces the presence of less healthful organisms in the body, basically by pushing them out of the limited space available in the digestive tract.

Dannon’s Activa yogurt, introduced in 2006, is among the best known U...

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