Paraprobiotics: Next functional food frontier?

What are paraprobiotics? Are they similar to probiotics?

Updated: 2020-05-29

Answer Section

You may have heard that eating yogurt or other fermented milks or vegetables has benefits. What is it about these foods that may impart health benefits? In addition to vitamins and minerals, these foods contain beneficial bacteria called probiotics.

Probiotics have been used to treat diarrhea, and lessen the symptoms of lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, research is looking into what role bacteria in the gut play in obesity.

Although fermentation has been part of food preservation for centuries, there are challenges with having live bacteria in food. Today scientists are concerned with controlling growth of bacteria to prevent illness yet ensuring enough good bacteria are present to provide benefit.

Thus, interest is high in inactivated probiotics, also called paraprobiotics. Think of it like a flu vaccine — an inactive virus. Paraprobiotics, although dead, have been reported to provide health benefits.

Paraprobiotics have been shown to boost the immune system and protect against bad bacteria in the gut. They appear to have benefits similar to those of probiotics and possibly others, such as treating liver disease caused by alcohol use and inflammation. More research is needed to completely understand how these dead bacteria interact with the gut, lungs and other systems in the body.

Currently what is known about paraprobiotics is based on direct consumption as a supplement, not as part of food. However, because paraprobiotics are dead, there may be opportunities to add them to foods, even foods you may not commonly associate with beneficial bacteria.