Prebiotic and Probiotic Bioavailablity in Foods


As we see more and more new products with claims of prebiotic or probiotic activity how do we measure / insure the foods are functioning as claimed?

Robert Fisher, Ph.D.
38 months ago

4 answers


This is such an important question. It is interesting as I see that different claims are being made. After settling on the claims, then it would be important to consider the following:
First and foremost, details about the strains and the dosing have been difficult to ascertain . Data continues to pour in over the benefits of select strains. To date, foods such as kefir, kimchi and kombucha have been reported to have a significant amount with kefir be touted a high number of colony forming units per mL. These reports are usually brand specific and thus difficult to generalize to other offerings.
Functional testing companies can report as to the diversity as well as the relative abundance. it would be helpful to determine the benefit with pre and post testing of the stool tests. Moreover, it would require serial tests as I am sure that there is a dose dependency, ie, one serving daily for a specified number of days with daily testing. Such a test would give so much more information. Then comes the ultimate notation, the surveillance of GI symptoms before and with each day. This kind of testing would demand significant exclusions to determine healthy adults and then would be opportunity to select specific conditions or situations (food allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel disease, etc).
In short stool testing would be helpful along with subjective reporting on a daily basis.

Param Dedhia
38 months ago

Good question – probiotics and prebiotics are typically consumed “on faith” that they are doing something (because consumers can often not "feel" any difference). That said, different pre/pro-biotics can have very different effects - some for GI benefits (some for diarrhea, some for constipation, etc) - some of immune effects - some for psychological benefits such as stress/depression/anxiety - some of metabolic benefits such as obesity/diabetes/cardiovascular - very wide range.
I think Param has it right – that stool testing is probably the way to go (possibly combined with surveys for customized outcomes) – but there is certainly a bit of the “ick factor” to be overcome by the average consumer?
There are a handful of companies that are currently offering stool-sampling for measurement of gut microbiome status, including Viome, uBiome, American Gut Project, and Day Two – but each of these options uses traditional 16S ribosomal sequencing technology that suffers from high cost, slow turnaround time, and confusing results.
I am a partner in a startup that is developing BiomeTracker - a consumer-friendly, easy-to-understand, customizable technology that enables rapid and inexpensive tracking of gut microbiome status. BiomeTracker is comprised of two technologies: a novel laboratory assay and a proprietary algorithm for data analysis and reporting that confer key benefits over the traditional 16S testing process.
Major improvements include:
¥ Cost - The instruments currently used for traditional high-throughput 16S sequencing are extremely expensive to purchase, maintain, and repair. Because they are prone to malfunction, a high level of instrument redundancy is required to avoid “down-time” in sample processing. Our BiomeTracker assay is run on instrumentation that is far less expensive, and much more reliable. Furthermore, the reagents (materials) needed are less costly, and labor costs are decreased.
¥ Turnaround time - Due to the technical, economic, and logistic difficulties associated with high-throughput sequencing, 8-12 week turnaround times are typical for current microbiome testing labs. BiomeTracker tests could reasonably and cost-effectively achieve a one-week turnaround time.
¥ Intuitive results – Reports generated by existing technologies are complex readouts showing relative levels of 400+ bacterial species (providing little meaning to the average consumer). Our algorithm distills the complex microbiome data into a simple, intuitive score so the customer easily understands if/how their gut health is improving over time, thus improving product usage/compliance.
¥ Customizability - BiomeTracker results can be sensitized to showcase the effect of specific pro/pre/synbiotic products have on the microbiome.

Shawn Talbott
38 months ago

what we know: Certain illnesses in humans can be improved significantly by feeding them microbione (yes, that's feces) from healthy persons.
Fat mice, fed microbione from thin mice, lose weight.
Lean mice, fed microbione from fat mice, gain weight.
The field is wide open. The more studies and experiments that are done, the more likely we are to figure this all out. For me personally, consuming a living breathing culture makes more sense than "pills."
But: beware. A century ago they proved yogurt made you young. The men of 60 looked and acted like 50 -"because they ate yogurt." Turns out, when the men in this country turned 18 they lied and showed they were 28 to escape the army draft.
Based on the best evidence we have today - that you need to replace the healthy bacteria after taking an antibiotic - I believe daily intake of yogurt/kefir, etc makes good sense.

Murray .Grossan, M.D.
38 months ago

At the moment most of what we have in food are spores and not "live" bacteria so they are unreliable in colonizing the gut. Fermented foods and yogurt have only a marginal capacity as they have no system to counter the bacterial killing role of the stomach (which is a primary function as digestion is minimal there). Plus nearly all only live in the small intestine, the large intestine is a site of far greater numbers but not really affected by functional foods.
Other issues involvenot only the diverse species that are needed to balance your microbiome, but whether the species are humanized or not. What this means is do they live and reproduce and hang around in the human gut. This is achieved with velco like attachments to the epithelial lining. You can have a friendly bacteria that is not humanized and so they are called transients as they are flushed away with the fecal stream.
Here is where the pay dirt lies. Deliverable forms of bacteria that are:

  1. stable and delivered to the intestines
  2. form vital functions
  3. mimic the profile in those with superior health (elite athletes have a distinctive profile, hunter gatherers are different as well, and centarians)
  4. AND the BIG payout will be to those that link these "solutions" to a monitoring process that assesses your microbiome status and then corrects it. Who does that successfully will have enormous success.
Mark JS Miller
38 months ago

Have some input?