Humans have used lactic acid bacteria for thousands of years to conserve and enhance the nutritional value of sensitive foods. Today various strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are added to many foods.
Research has shown that several different strains of Lactobacillus reuteri have a positive effect on health, including various types of gastrointestinal disorders and oral health. It is also believed that lactobacilli play a role in the development of allergies.
In the 1960s, when the bacterium was discovered, L. reuteri occurred naturally in the bodies of 30–40 percent of the population. Today it is found in 10–20 percent.
“We relate this drop to changes in lifestyle. We don’t eat fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, to the same extent as before and use preservatives, which kill bacteria in the food and in the body,” says Gabriela Sinkiewicz, a researcher at the Faculty of Health and Society, Malmö University, who will soon be submitting her dissertation on L. reuteri.
Gabriela Sinkiewicz is one of the first researchers to determine that the bacterium occurs naturally in breast milk in some women from geographically diverse countries. She has compared the occurrence of L. reuteri in the breast milk of women in seven countries on different continents.
“On average one of seven women had the bacterium in their breast milk. In Japan and Korea, however, women had higher concentrations of lactobacilli,” says Sinkiewicz, who says that the prevalence of L. reuteri in breast milk is important, as it helps the infant’s intestinal system to mature and its immune defense to develop. She also maintains that it affects the risk of developing allergies.
Gabriela Sinkiewicz has also studied how L. reuteri affects oral health and has established that the occurrence of both plaque and bleeding from the gums declined after only two weeks of using chewing gum containing certain strains of L. reuteri.
“Studies show that L. reuteri is highly effective. We have multiple studies underway that directly address oral health and allergies.”
Title of dissertation: Lactobacillus reuteri in health and disease.