Surely there must be a gut-friendly food that can help reduce the risk of asthma and allergies.

So suggests the current issue of Fortune Magazine, its “Food Issue”, which has an article entitled “A Food Revolution—in Your Gut? Feeding the Microbiome”. (The actual article only seems to be in the print magazine; this related version is online.)

The article focuses heavily on Danone, the European food company big into yogurt (Dannon being its U.S. brand). Fortune said Danone currently has “some 100 clinical trials and (is) collaborating with more than 40 academic or commercial partners” in the area now referred to as “microbiota research.

Because gut bacteria are so complex, says the article, the industry is focusing on the baby gut. “Infants pick up their first microbes in the birth canal, and in early life mother’s milk is like a microbiome starter kit—rich with the complex fibers that feed those microbes. Research suggests that these early-acquired bugs are critical for healthy development: Babies born preterm or via Cesarean section, and who are in general exposed to antibiotics early on, have been found to be at higher risk for health problems like asthma, allergies, and obesity later in life. A product that could reduce that risk would be a powerful force in the $50 billion global formula market.

Fortune should have been more precise—it should have said, “A proprietary product that could reduce that risk…” As we know, there is already a natural product out there that has been shown in large-scale European research to protect against asthma and allergies in children.

But raw milk has little value to a corporation like Danone because it can’t control the supply, and the pricing, of the product, since there’s nothing proprietary about a product that’s been used for 5,000 years to help people stay healthy.

Fortune reports that Danone has moved ahead with “a formula laden with synbiotics—a mix of prebiotic fiber and probiotic bacteria,” in Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand, and soon to other parts of the world. The product hasn’t been used long enough for Danone to have data on whether it helps protect against asthma and allergies, though it has been moving aggressively to make the connection.

Based on what the researchers in the Gabriela project discovered, Danone may be way off base—they concluded that it likely wasn’t the prebiotics or probiotics in raw milk that conferred protection, but rather a whey protein that is damaged by the heat of pasteurization. I doubt such a technicality would prevent Danone from trumpeting all kinds of health benefits from its new infant formula.

Danone isn’t the only corporation hot on food products to strengthen the gut, according to Fortune. General Mills “has an institute engaged in microbiome research (and) has filed a patent for a fiber mix that ameliorates inflammatory bowel disease,” says Fortune. “DuPont and Monsanto are feverishly studying the micro biomes of soil and plants in hopes of increasing agricultural yields…”.

Funny, I thought we had some old-fashioned tools for doing all those things—more commonly known as fermented foods.