The researchers – backed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – want to define the product’s health benefits like immunity and ageing in a zero-gravity environment, and are rocketing Yakult products to the ISS to do it.
“Space is a model for accelerated ageing, so if we can find preventive measures in space, these could be applied on the ground, too,” said Hiroshi Ohshima, JAXA’s manager of space biomedical research.
Japanese astronauts will take Yakult probiotic drinks for one month periods and then have their systems analysed.
Probiotic space race
Yakult first signalled its intention to test its products in space in 2012 to test the idea that probiotics could give a boost to physiologies challenged by space living.
This is especially so as research conducted by the likes of NASA (North American Space Agency) suggests the human body can struggle to adjust to zero-gravity existence.
Additionally, planned longer missions that may involve travel to other planets like Mars will place additional strain on immune and other systems.
Takeshi Umeda, from Yakult's International Business Department, previously told NutraIngredients-USA: "As far as we know, there have been few reports of research on the effects that an extended stay in space has on a person's intestinal microflora and immunity.”
“Astronauts are likely to experience changes in their intestinal environment, which may result in intestinal microflora imbalances and a lowering of immunity."
Yakult will also test whether or not it needs to modify its formulations for space. It uses the lactobacillus casei (Shirota) strain in its products.
Other firms like Nestlé have been working with the European Space Agency (ESA) to improve the foaming qualities of some of its foods.
The ISS is jointly managed by Japan, the US, Russia, Canada and Europe.