Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits on the host. However, in recent years, several concerns on their use have been raised. In particular, industrial processing and storage of probiotic products are still technological challenges as these could severely impair cell viability. On the other hand, safety of live microorganisms should be taken into account, especially when administered to vulnerable people, such as the elderly and immunodeficient individuals. These drawbacks have enhanced the interest toward new products based on non-viable probiotics such as paraprobiotics and postbiotics. In particular, paraprobiotics, defined as “inactivated microbial cells (non-viable) that confer a health benefit to the consumer,” hold the ability to regulate the adaptive and innate immune systems, exhibit anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and antioxidant properties and exert antagonistic effect against pathogens. Moreover, paraprobiotics can exhibit enhanced safety, assure technological and practical benefits and can also be used in products suitable for people with weak immunity and the elderly. These features offer an important opportunity to prompt the market with novel functional foods or nutraceuticals that are safer and more stable. This review provides an overview of central issues on paraprobiotics and highlights the urgent need for further studies aimed at assessing safety and efficacy of these products and their mechanisms of action in order to support decisions of regulatory authorities. Finally, a definition is proposed that unambiguously distinguishes paraprobiotics from postbiotics.
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