Probiotics: Are Dairy Foods the Preferred Vehicle

October 01, 2015

Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be good for health, especially the digestive system. Fermented dairy foods, like yogurt and kefir, continue to be the most popular foods and beverages people choose when they want the potential benefits of probiotics. But why is that? Is there something about probiotics in dairy foods that allow them to work more effectively than in other foods or as probiotic supplements?

The jury is still out and there’s still a great deal of research to be done in this area. That’s where animal research can play an important role. It can help us understand how specific probiotic strains may work in the body, how probiotics interact with food, and we can model their effect on human health that may otherwise be difficult to study.

That’s why I’m excited to share with you the results of new research that sheds light on why dairy foods may indeed be the best way to reap the benefits of probiotics.

We know that if a probiotic is to have the desired health outcome, many conditions need to be met. A specific probiotic strain in the correct amount must be able to survive the harsh environment of the digestive system. That’s where dairy comes into play. Test tube experiments have shown that dairy foods can increase the expression of genes, which could allow L. acidophilus NCFM, a common probiotic strain, to survive and thrive within the digestive environment. Future research will reveal whether this mechanism holds true for other probiotic strains.

Recently a new study in mice has shown that survival of the probiotic L. caseiBL23 was 12 to 14 times greater when the probiotic was fed after being combined with milk for a set period of time (i.e., incubation) compared to delivery in the control buffer or in milk without incubation. Proteins expressed by the probiotic organism that were associated with survival were increased after incubation in milk as well.

To advance this line of research even further, another study used a mouse model of ulcerative colitis to test whether L. casei  BL23 could protect against the development of colitis (i.e., inflammation of the colon) when consumed in combination with milk versus milk alone or a L. casei probiotic supplement alone. In the mice that received the probiotic in the milk, symptoms of colitis were reduced compared to the milk alone or the probiotic supplement alone.

“Our findings indicate that the manner in which a probiotic is delivered—whether in food or supplement form—could influence how effective that probiotic is in delivering the desired health benefits,” stated the researchers in this article. In this case, milk was the preferred vehicle.

Historically, health and wellness professionals have believed the optimal way people should get the nutrients they need is from the foods they eat and the natural synergies that take place. This new research supports the wisdom of this approach. While the research presented here is largely on animals, it indicates that a complementary relationship exists between a probiotic and the dairy food that delivers it, providing direction for human studies. I hope you have found this helpful as you talk to people about their use of probiotics. Follow me @drdairy50 and stay tuned here for more news on scientific findings related to dairy foods and health.


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