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Pretty much this. I've been wondering if any of the yogourt and other "health" foods containing living probiotic cultures survive digestion to populate our intestines? If so, is there peer-reviewed evidence you could point me to?

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Related: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6180/… –  nico Apr 14 '12 at 5:14
Closely related, I'm wondering if pills containing bacterial cultures would keep the bacteria alive through the stomach - it seems like the coating would, but has it ever been tested? –  John C Apr 14 '12 at 11:57
@JohnC: there is a big difference if we are speaking of pills. Gastro-resistant capsules are made expecially to resist the acid in the stomach and only dissolve at the high pH of the intestine. I do not know any specific study on coatings of probiotics pills, but I think it is safe to assume that they would use the same coating as many drugs. –  nico Apr 15 '12 at 6:35
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Apparently, some do and some don't.

I just tried searching for yogurt lactobacillus survival on Google, and the first hit I got was an article titled "Survival of yogurt-containing organisms and Lactobacillus gasseri (ADH) and their effect on bacterial enzyme activity in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy and hypochlorhydric elderly subjects" by Pedrosa et al. (1995), published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 61, pp. 353–359. The abstract reads:

"The effect of the live bacterial yogurt cultures, namely Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and a mucosal adhering strain of Lactobacillus gasseri (ADH) on small intestinal and fecal bacterial characteristics was examined in 10 elderly subjects with atrophic gastritis and 23 elderly normal volunteers (11 received yogurt and 12 received ADH). Neither S thermophilus nor L bulgaricus was recovered from the stomach or small intestine of subjects fed yogurt or pasteurized yogurt. ADH was recovered from gastric or small intestinal aspirates in three of four subjects and in the stools of four of five subjects diagnosed with atrophic gastritis. In 11 of 12 normal subjects, ADH was isolated from stools. There was a significant reduction in fecal bacterial enzyme activity in both normal volunteers and subjects with atrophic gastritis after being fed with viable ADH. Adherent strains of bacteria such as ADH are likely to survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract and thus have greater metabolic effects."

Here's another result from the same search, "Survival and therapeutic potential of probiotic organisms with reference to Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp." (PDF) by Kailasapathy & Chin, Immunology and Cell Biology (2000) 78, 80–88, which says:

"Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus (yoghurt starter cultures) are not bile resistant and do not survive the passage through the intestinal tract [Gilliland, 1978]. However, L. acidophilus and B. bifidum incorporated into the yoghurt starter culture have the ability to establish themselves among the gut flora [Tamime & Robinson, 1985]."

but also points out that, for survival in the gastrointestinal tract to matter, the bacteria must first survive long enough to get there:

"Strains of bifidobacteria used in some commercial products neither survive gastric transit nor product acidity during storage [Varnam & Sutherland, 1994]. [...] Eight commercial yoghurt samples claiming to contain viable bifidobacteria, sold in London, were enumerated for the presence of this organism. Only five of the eight yoghurts tested contained viable bifidobacteria at > 106 per mL, while the remaining three did not contain any bifidobacteria [Masuda et al., 1993]. Modler and Villa-Garcia [1993] reported that bifidobacteria do not survive in several yoghurt products in North America, due to highly acidic conditions. [...] It is considered misleading to describe probiotic yoghurt as having health promoting properties unless the minimum level of viable cells is present at the expiry date."

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This is interesting that some species are viable and others are not. Thank you for the quote. –  leonardo Apr 15 '12 at 3:08
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When I took Microbio we had a entire lecture on this. My professor's view was that they do not survive due to the pH of the stomach. He told us that there are microbiologist on both sides as to whether they do make it to the intestine (or enough of them to make much difference) or that they do survive and help. I have added a link below to a article by the American Society of Microbiology. Here it is saying that it may be helpful, but that more studies are being conducted.


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You may also want to cite the EFSA report on this matter. –  nico Apr 14 '12 at 5:17
@Danielle - I gave Ilmari the accepted answer since it was better researched. –  leonardo Apr 15 '12 at 12:12
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