The administration of probiotic bacteria as nutraceuticals is an area that has rapidly expanded in recent years, with a global market worth $32.6 billion predicted by 2014. Many of the health promoting claims attributed to these bacteria are dependent on the cells being both viable and sufficiently numerous in the intestinal tract. The oral administration of most bacteria results in a large loss of viability associated with passage through the stomach, which is attributed to the high acid and bile salt concentrations present. This loss of viability effectively lowers the efficacy of the administered supplement. The formulation of these probiotics into microcapsules is an emerging method to reduce cell death during GI passage, as well as an opportunity to control release of these cells across the intestinal tract. The majority of this technology is based on the immobilization of bacteria into a polymer matrix, which retains its structure in the stomach before degrading and dissolving in the intestine, unlike the diffusion based unloading of most controlled release devices for small molecules. This review shall provide an overview of progress in this field as well as draw attention to areas where studies have fallen short. This will be followed by a discussion of emerging trends in the field, highlighting key areas in which further research is necessary.
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