The Swiss food giant claims Good Start Natural Cultures is the first US infant formula to contain probiotics for immune system support. The company says the Bifidobacterium lactis in its formula helps children improve the balance of microflora in their gastrointestinal tract, thereby supporting a healthy immune system. Nestlé's move follows on the heels of another functional food coup, the use of the micro algae-derived omega-3 fatty acid DHA in infant formula by Martek. Martek then went on to capitalize that market in the US and claimed to supply over 80 percent of all DHA used in North America. This could change however, given recent regulatory changes allowing fish oil-derived DHA (docosahexaenoic acid ) to be used in infant formula. And just as DHA is found in human breast milk and is important to infant development, Nestlé says bifidobacteriais are naturally found in the digestive tracts of breastfed infants. In formula-fed infants the presence of probiotic "friendly bacteria" is significantly lower than in breastfed infants. "The inclusion of probiotics clearly goes a step further than providing basic nutrients for growth and development by adding a functional component which addresses an important objective of nutrition: supporting and modulating an infant's immune system," said José Saavedra, medical and scientific director with Nestlé Nutrition. However, Nestlé underscores breastfeeding is still the best way to provide nutrition to an infant. "The inclusion of probiotics in infant formula is a major step toward providing infants a small part of the immune-related benefits that only breastfeeding can provide," said Saavedra. North America has been a tough nut to crack for probiotic suppliers as the concept of friendly bacteria only begins to take hold among consumers, whereas it is an established concept in Europe. Nestlé has already been selling B. lactis formulas in 30 different countries for more than 15 years, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only now authorized the use of B. lactis in Good Start Natural Cultures. "It's an exciting time for probiotics in the U.S. with the introduction of food products similar to those that have been available for years in Europe and Asia containing strains with documented health benefits," said Mary Ellen Sanders, executive director of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.