Probiotic gum puts friendly organisms in the mouth to defeat bad breath and infections
You won’t find it on the shelves next to Juicy Fruit, but a new Canadian-made chewing gum is being touted for its health benefits, based in part on years of research by microbiologists at the University of B.C.
For those with an aversion to swallowing supplements or eating yogurt containing health-promoting bacterial cultures, Probiotic Gum may be a better vehicle for putting enough friendly bacteria in the mouth to do battle against the bad types that can lead to bad breath and infections.
The mouth contains billions of good and bad bacteria, and the good ones can be used as probiotics because they are living micro-organisms that raise immunity to infection from harmful germs, including the kinds that cause strep throat, earaches, respiratory infections, sinus infections and halitosis (bad breath caused by unfriendly bacteria).
The new gum contains a therapeutic dose (500 million active bacteria) of Streptococcus salivarius in a patented delivery mode. Dr. John Tagg, a microbiologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said his childhood experiences with strep throat leading to rheumatic fever led him on a 30-year mission to develop a probiotic product that would prevent strep throat and other infections.
“Infection protection starts in the mouth,” Tagg said. “There are many strains of probiotics for the intestinal tract, but they do not give protection where it is needed most: in the mouth.”
The gum is marketed and distributed by a Coquitlam company called Cultured Care (part of Prairie Naturals). It can be bought in health and nutrition stores and pharmacies, and is being sold for $6 to $8 for an eight-piece package.
Dr. Bob Hancock, Canada research chair and professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at UBC, said he has no proprietary interest in the gum, but Tagg used some of UBC’s research in the development process.
“There are loads of different organisms in the mouth, but this bug type (Streptococcus salivarius) produces antibacterial substances that can kill certain bad bacteria,” Hancock said in an interview, noting that good and bad organisms compete for food in the mouth from things such as leftover particles of food.
“Our body has the ability to discriminate against pathogens and the normal flora,” Hancock said. “Streptococcus salivarius is part of our normal bacteria that occupy the oral cavity.”
Hancock is interested in therapies that increase the efficiency of the innate immune system, sometimes called the inflammatory response. The response is good if it is short-term enough to naturally repair the problem, but bad if it leads to chronic inflammation and disease.
Hancock’s lab at UBC is trying to find agents to fight infectious diseases, which are said to cause a third of all the deaths in the world.
Although antibiotics are a first line of attack, they are not always effective, especially because of growing antibiotic resistance. So harnessing the body’s own immune system holds great appeal.
For the gum, Tagg used Hancock’s research in human cell cultures, which showed that probiotics can destroy harmful bacteria while dampening the potentially damaging inflammatory response that occurs when the immune system is activated to fend off an attack.
While Hancock is fairly sure the gum will be useful against the bacteria causing bad breath, he said he can’t predict its effectiveness against preventing infections. He hasn’t yet chewed the gum, but he does occasionally take probiotic supplements for gastrointestinal imbalances.
“I don’t really like yogurt and there aren’t necessarily enough of the right probiotics in yogurt to make a difference anyway. The thing about the gum is that it seems like a good way to introduce the healthy organisms to the oral cavity,” Hancock said.
Dr. Karen Madsen, a probiotics expert at the University of Alberta, said she looked at the research done by Tagg on the effects of Streptococcus salivarius. There is strong evidence that it does release a substance that can kill other pathogenic bacterial strains that can cause throat infections, ear aches and bad breath under laboratory-based conditions, she said.
“The idea of replacing pathogenic strains of Streptococcus in the mouth with non-pathogenic strains is a valid concept, and several different labs are carrying out research in this area to try to determine the most effective formulations and treatment times,” she said.
But she and Tagg are at odds over whether there is definitive proof of the claims for the effectiveness of the gum product.
“There is no evidence for the statement that [the gum] helps protect against strep throat infections by providing the friendly probiotic bacteria that fight strep infections,” Madsen said.
Tagg said in an e-mail interview that the science behind the gum research dates back more than 20 years. “The data for this assumption is irrefutable and the body of evidence is substantial,” he said, adding that in both lab and clinical trials in more than 100 humans, the probiotic organisms go to work as soon as gum-chewing begins.
Sun Health Issues Reporter
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