Chong was speaking in Singapore at our first Probiota Asia summit, and said the vast range of probiotics, the number of strains and the growing array of health claims had been making it difficult for pharmacists to best gauge which products to recommend.
She urged the industry to come together to better educate pharmacy staff and their consumers on how they can assess which products are the most beneficial.
She said there needs to be better education on the relative benefits of strains, whether single- or multi-strain products are preferable, if products are for short-term or long-term use, what concentration of probiotics is optimal, and the role that can be played by synbiotics (a combination of prebiotics and probiotics).
"Consumers do not know the considerable differences between various commercial preparations," she said.
"We need (the) industry to agree on some guidelines and best practices."
That said, she also mentioned that probiotic consumption was relatively high in Singapore, due to their good safety profile.
The most common health conditions consumers associate with probiotics include acute diarrhoea, atopic eczema, Helicobacter pylori infections, high cholesterol, infantile diarrhoea, lactose intolerance, rheumatoid arthritis, and traveller’s diarrhoea.
From the standpoint of pharmacists in Singapore, Chong said it was acknowledged that several Lactobacillus strains were beneficial for rota viral diarrhoea, and potentially for eczema.
Also possibly effective are some strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium for constipation and respiratory tract infection. However, these were probably ineffective for vaginal candidiasis and urinary tract infection, she claimed.
Drivers of the probiotic market include greater health awareness. According to Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB), sales of products labelled with the Healthier Choice symbol have increased by 9% annually, thanks to digestive ailments caused by hectic lifestyles, advice from healthcare professionals, and recommendations from family and friends.
In APAC last year, probiotic yogurt accounted for 91% of the market, compared to probiotic supplements at 4% and sour milk products at 5%.
This reveals that APAC consumers prefer probiotics in functional foods, she added.