Shifting to healthy drinks is a new trend these days. With an eye on growing cases of gastro-intestinal diseases, health drinks are penetrating aggressively in the market.

Probiotic drinks, known only to a select few until recently, are now flooding the Indian market like never before. Every supermarket fridge is now laden with these products, known as “gut friendly” food. Estimated to be Rs. 15 million market, India is fast becoming one of the world’s fastest growing dairy products markets.

Though the figures looks miniscule – considering globally the probiotic is a $14-billion industry – yet in urban domains craving for probiotics is increasing rapidly and probiotic drinks and foods are slowly grabbing market space. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as live microorganisms that when conferred in adequate quantities provide a health benefit.

Neerja Hajela, secretary, Gut Microbiota and Probiotic Science Foundation (India), says that probiotics are becoming increasingly important since they improve intestinal health. “The intestine is a highly neglected organ although it controls all aspects of health,” she says.

According to her, the food we eat is digested here and the nutrients are absorbed. “Moreover, the intestine harbors majority of the immune cells of the human body and is largest immune organ and hence protects us from diseases. The microbes are both beneficial and harmful and therefore the balance is important. Probiotics help to maintain the balance,” says Hajela.

Whetting the appetite

Major players in the market for probiotics drinks and foods include Yakult, Nestle, Amul, Mother Dairy and small entities with offerings being spread in categories like yogurt, milk, ice cream and even tea.

Buoyed by the success Yakult Danone, a 50-50 joint venture between Japan’s Yakult and French food company Danone, is producing 280,000 bottles of 65 ml per day at its manufacturing facility at Sonepat (Haryana).

The founder of Yakult, Dr. Minoru Shirota, advocated the importance of preventive medicine and healthy intestines for longevity, and based his research activities on medicine to prevent diseases and the maintenance of robust intestinal health to help people live longer.

Another key producer of probiotic functional foods and beverages in India, Mother Dairy’s Nutrifit, is sold through about multi-brand retail outlets, as also retail and institutional channels.

Amul’s probiotic ice cream is also lapped up by probiotic fans. Says Mohammed Ajmal, a regular shopper for probiotics: “I enjoy Amul’s prolife probiotic ice cream, yoghurt and buttermilk which help boost digestion”.

MO’s Superfoods launched a European probiotic yogurt in India called MO’s Kefir. Moina Oberoi, its founder and managing director, puts things in perspective for Al Arabiya English.

“We set the formula focusing on two aspects, sensory and functional. From the sensory standpoint MO’s Kefir is conducive to the India and Asian palate. Being a chef it was very important to me personally that what we produce tastes great first,” she says.

According to her, on the functional standpoint MO’s Kefir has worked with a combination of bacterial strains that have positive health effects on aliments most commonly found.

Proboitics updates

As probiotics flood the market, vigorous research and development has also taken place. Giving the updates, Neerja Hajela said that research suggests that probiotics could help in reducing risk of common cold, allergies, even lifestyle disorders and because of the link between the gut and the brain may be useful in alleviating depression and anxiety.

“However, probiotic benefits are strain specific and one cannot generalize them. Therefore it is important that every strain is backed by its own dossier of scientific data for both its safety and health benefits,” says Hajela.

On what one should look for when buying probiotic food/drink, Neerja said: “It is important to study the label of the probiotic food which much indicate the complete name (Genus, Species and Strain), numbers of live bacteria till end of shelf life and the scientifically proven health benefits”.

According to her, since most probiotic foods that are available in India are in the form of dairy foods, storage conditions are very important. “Most of these products are refrigerated to ensure viability of the bacteria,” she says.

On the changing food habits, Moina Oberoi says gut friendly foods are more a need of the hour rather than a fad. “Indians have one of the highest rates of lifestyle diseases such as type II diabetes, blood pressure, cancer, cardiovascular issues and so on and the market is finally becoming more susceptible to changing diet habits based on the rise in sales of organic and health food products in the past 5 years,” she says.

Oberoi believes that once there is an increased credible communication shared providing the relevant understanding between gut health and these diseases the market will open up further. “The key, however, is to make sure these foods still taste great and are economically accessible”.

The flip side

Though these firms roll out a slew of probiotic foods and drinks claim to keep the digestive system healthy yet there is a flip side of the story. The Lancet, a British medical journal, says that the “good bacteria” commonly found in probiotic yogurt and drinks can be fatal for people suffering from severe pancreatitis.

Says Neerja when asked to comment on the report, “I am not commenting on the study because it was not our own study. However, you have to consume probiotics with caution in immune compromised patients.”

Sensing the fad for health foods and beverages, India’s food regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has set standards for categories such as health supplements, nutraceuticals, food for special dietary uses and special medical purposes besides specialty foods containing probiotics, botanicals, and prebiotics as well as novel foods.

Expert views

Responding to Al Arabiya English, Dr. B.V. Tantry, HOD – Gastroenterology Dept, KMC Hospital, Mangalore, said: “Choose a probiotic that contains microorganism proven to get desired effect. For example, Lactobacillus maybe helpful for someone who cannot digest lactose the sugar in milk; Bifidobacterium for someone with IBS and sacharomyces for diarrhea”.

Dr. Tantry says it is important to check the expiry date when purchasing a probiotic. “Make sure the bacteria is viable. The manufacturer should specify how many bacteria are viable at the end of shelf-life”. He also says that there should not be any leakage or swelling of package. “Some people may get diarrhoea and bloating initially when using probiotics,” he says.

When asked for his views on the effectiveness of probiotics to a patient with gastro related issues, Dr. Tantry advised: “Probiotics have proven benefit in gut problems like functional GI disorders, infantile colic, constipation, ulcerative colitis and antibiotic associated diarrhea”.

However, the catch is that if probiotics are considered for therapeutic purposes, it is better to use products regulated by FDA.

“Probiotics are not replacement for proven treatment. Though probiotics boost immunity in normal person they can become source of infection in immunologically challenged patients,” says Dr. Tantry.

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New Delhi/Srinagar, Jul 13: The Centre has significantly strengthened the authority of the lieutenant governor in Jammu and Kashmir, empowering him to make decisions on crucial matters such as police and all-India services officers and granting sanctions for prosecution in various cases.

The opposition slammed the Union government's move and termed it a step towards "disempowering" the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Official sources, however, said the notification does not in any sense alter the balance of powers as enshrined in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.

The Union home ministry gave more powers to the lieutenant governor on Friday by amending the transaction rules framed under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. This Act, passed alongside the abrogation of Article 370, bifurcated the erstwhile state into two Union territories -- Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The sources said that with the amendments to the transaction rules, the powers of the legislative assembly and the functions of the lieutenant governor have been clearly defined and delineated in the Act, and the same has been reflected in the transaction of business rules.

The Union home ministry notification, through which the amendment to the transaction rules of the Act were brought, has been issued to provide better clarity on the processes to enable the smooth administration of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is a simple amendment to the transaction rules which were issued to avoid any ambiguity, the sources added.

In the past, proposals concerning police, public order, all-India services and the Anti-Corruption Bureau required approval from the finance department of Jammu and Kashmir before reaching the lieutenant governor.

Under the revised rules, such proposals must now be presented directly to the lieutenant governor through the chief secretary of the Union territory.

The lieutenant governor's authority extends further to the appointment of the advocate general and other law officers. These appointments, previously decided upon by the government, will now require the lieutenant governor's approval.

The Centre's decision has met with criticism from some political parties in Jammu and Kashmir who view it as an attempt to undermine the power of an elected government.

The Supreme Court has directed the restoration of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir "at the earliest" and the holding of elections to the assembly by September 30, 2024.

On Saturday, various political parties expressed their disapproval of the Centre's move to grant additional powers to the lieutenant governor in matters concerning police and all-India service officers.

The National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) labelled the decision as a step towards "disempowering" the people of Jammu and Kashmir, while the Congress condemned the move as a "murder of democracy".

The Apni Party called for a unified protest against the decision.

Following the Centre's move, decisions regarding prosecution sanctions and filing appeals will also come under the lieutenant governor's purview. Additionally, matters related to prisons, the directorate of prosecution and the forensic science laboratory will be handled directly by the lieutenant governor.

"No proposal which requires previous concurrence of the Finance Department with regard to 'Police', 'Public Order', 'All India Service' and 'Anti Corruption Bureau' to exercise the discretion of the Lieutenant Governor under the Act shall be concurred or rejected unless it has been placed before the lieutenant governor through the chief secretary," the Union home ministry notification stated.

The lieutenant governor's role in bureaucratic matters has also been amplified. Proposals for postings and transfers of administrative secretaries, along with those concerning IAS and IPS officers, will be routed through his office.

Reacting to this order, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah raised concerns about the implications of having a "powerless and rubber stamp" chief minister, who would need the lieutenant governor's approval even for minor appointments.

Despite acknowledging the timing of the decision in relation to the upcoming elections, Abdullah emphasised the importance of a clear commitment towards restoring full statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.

"This is why a firm commitment to laying out the timeline for restoration of full and undiluted statehood for Jammu and Kashmir is a prerequisite for these polls. The people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve better than a powerless and rubber stamp CM who will have to beg the L-G to get his/her peon appointed," he said.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the increased powers given to the Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor suggested a dim outlook for the restoration of a full-fledged statehood in the near future.

In a post on 'X', he said, "The only meaning that can be drawn from this notification is that full-fledged statehood for Jammu and Kashmir does not seem likely in the immediate future."

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti's daughter and media adviser Iltija Mufti highlighted the perceived agenda behind the decision, suggesting that it was aimed at limiting the powers of any future elected government in the region.

"The order seeks to disempower the powers of the next Jammu and Kashmir state government only because the BJP doesn't want to cede control or lose its iron grip over Kashmiris. Statehood is out of the question. An elected government in Jammu and Kashmir will be reduced to a municipality," she said.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress president Vikar Rasool Wani echoed the sentiment of democracy being under threat, describing the move as a "murder of democracy" that would hinder the path to true statehood restoration.

Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari called for unity among political parties in opposing the Centre's decision, warning against the creation of a "powerless assembly" that would diminish the effectiveness of elected representatives in serving the region's interests.

"We appeal to all parties to shun political differences and come together on this issue. If we cannot stand united today, then we will never be. We should ensure that the statehood that we get is not hollow and has all the powers to serve people. We have to be united to serve the interests of the people," Bukhari added.

The sources said the Act was passed by Parliament in August 2019 and the same was upheld by the Supreme Court.

As per section 32 of the Act, the legislative assembly may make laws concerning any of the matters enumerated in the State List except "Police" and "Public Order" or the Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, they said.

As per section 53 of the Act, the lieutenant governor shall exercise his functions in his discretion in a matter which falls outside the purview of powers conferred on legislative assembly, related to all-India services and the Anti-Corruption Bureau and any other matter which he is required by or under any law to act in its discretion.

Senior CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami said the amendments constitute "another brazen assault on the remaining nominal rights", virtually "downsizing" a historic state to the status of a bigger municipality. He said it is high time for all political parties to unitedly oppose the "autocratic order" and demand its revocation.