Like healthy bacteria, the market for prebiotic and probiotic supplements is growing. While the language and approach of modern medicine has traditionally battled bacteria, the paradigm is shifting as doctors, scientists and other health professionals continue to study the importance of “good bacteria.”


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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Drug stores can educate shoppers about ‘good bacteria’

October 8th, 2012
by Elizabeth Russell

Like healthy bacteria, the market for prebiotic and probiotic supplements is growing. While the language and approach of modern medicine has traditionally battled bacteria, the paradigm is shifting as doctors, scientists and other health professionals continue to study the importance of “good bacteria.”

There are over 100 trillion microbes in the average human body, the healthy balance of which works to promote immune function, support proper digestion and maintain overall wellness. Many of these bacteria thrive in our digestive systems, with prebiotics playing the role of food or fuel for the probiotics to survive.

Although the gut is the “home” for many beneficial bacteria, their good work has ramifications across the anatomy, leading doctors to recommend probiotic supplements or yogurts to patients who may not have problems with regularity. Studies show that probiotics may even have farther-reaching health benefits, such as helping to manage eczema in children, treat irritable bowel syndrome and, perhaps, help decrease the recurrence of bladder cancer.

In addition to doctors, makers of food and supplement brands that contain probiotics are doing a lot of the heavy lifting to educate consumers about probiotics. To the benefit of consumers, as well as health care professionals and the health, beauty and wellness (HBW) supply chain, awareness should continue to grow as science more precisely reveals the role of bacteria in overall wellness.

The paradigm shift may begin to swing the pendulum more heavily toward promoting the use of probiotics in order to help prevent infections, such as urinary tract infections and yeast infections, rather than reacting to these afflictions with a prescription for antibiotics. This is not to say that antibiotics no longer have a place in medicine; it is, rather, that their use may made unnecessary by the ingestion of probiotics and that their effects on the body’s defenses may be counteracted with probiotics.

The changing view of the digestive system and of the body as a whole has led some scientists to dub their studies “medical ecology” to reflect the view of the body as a micro-ecosystem in which other living organisms contribute to overall health.

Of course, consumers should always seek the advice of their doctor or primary care provider when adding a supplement to their daily routine. Pharmacists who embrace the approach of counteracting the effects of antibiotics on the body’s defenses and overall health may recommend over-the-counter probiotic supplements to be used in conjunction with antibiotic ­prescriptions.

Additional HBW products containing probiotics exist across several categories. For example, to mimic the health benefits of breast milk, some infant formulas contain probiotics that help a baby’s immune system to develop and to support the child’s overall health.

Probiotic supplements for children have also become more popular recently to meet children’s digestive health and wellness needs. Studies have shown that children who frequently take antibiotics are at greater risk for developing asthma and inflammatory bowel disease later in life. Replenishing the good bacteria killed by antibiotics may help to restore the balance that helps the body thrive.

Shoppers can choose the form of probiotic that fits their lifestyle and needs, including powder or capsule fiber supplements. Other supplements including shakes, puddings and snack bars may be well suited to those with additional need for calories, protein or other nutrients. In addition to being included in some probiotic supplements, prebiotics are available as companion products for effective cultivation of good bacteria.

While consumer awareness of probiotics and their health benefits is certainly growing, the scope of those benefits may surprise some shoppers. Help increase sales of these items by promoting their far-reaching abilities to ward off infection, counteract some side effects of antibiotic use, and promote regularity and well-balanced digestive health. Supplying shoppers with these facts, whether in the form of shelf signs across categories, displays, or pharmacist recommendations and counseling, may have them reaching for additional items in your stores.

Elizabeth Russell is an industry writer and researcher with Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail.

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