Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that help in maintaining the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. Also called "friendly bacteria" or "good bacteria", these are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut.
Probiotics are available to consumers mainly in the form of dietary supplements and foods. The term probiotics was coined in 1965 to describe substances that favour the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the body.
Why should I be aware of this?
There are about 100 trillion microorganisms -- bacteria, fungi and more -- living on and in the human body. Antibiotics kill "good" (beneficial) bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to diarrhea. Taking probiotic supplements (as capsules, powder, or liquid extract) may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria and thus help prevent diarrhea.
All about probiotics
The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yoghurt, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements.
Benefits of probiotics
- Probiotics enable total absorption of food through the digestive system. This dramatically increases the overall nutrition and enhances rapid cellular growth and development.
- Probiotics also produce many important enzymes and increase the availability of vitamins and nutrients, especially Vitamin B, Vitamin K, lactase, fatty acids and calcium.
- It cleans the intestinal tract.
- Probiotics relieve constipation and normalizes bowel movements.
- When probiotics attach themselves to the intestinal walls they produce a mildly acidic environment that slows the growth of disease-causing bacteria. *This also helps the immune system.
- Probiotics kill viruses and parasites.
Probiotic and health
Research has shown that certain probiotics may restore normal bowel function and may help reduce.
- Diarrhea that is a side effect of antibiotics.
- Certain types of infectious diarrhea.
- Inflammation of the ileal pouch (pouchitis) that may occur in people who have had surgery to remove the colon.
These results suggest that eventually probiotics may also be used to:
- Help with other causes of diarrhea.
- Help prevent infections in the digestive tract.
- Help control immune response (inflammation), as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Are probiotics safe?
In probiotic foods and supplements, the bacteria may have been present originally or added during preparation. Probiotic bacteria are already part of the normal digestive system and are considered safe.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:
- Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you are taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
- Dietary supplements may not be standardized in their manufacturing. This means that how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
- The long-term effects of most dietary supplements, other than vitamins and minerals, are not known. Many dietary supplements are not used long-term.
People assume that probiotic supplements are regulated by authorities like medicines. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medication. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works or on its safety.
- Probiotics, such as yogurt drinks containing live bacteria, have a tangible effect on the metabolism.
- Probiotics can protect live chickens from Salmonella, Campylobacter and other pathogens that cause food borne illness in people who eat poultry.
- Probiotics may help to lower people's risk of developing cancer, according to a University of Ulster scientist.
- Exposure to some forms of probiotics might actually help prevent onset of Type I diabetes, researchers opine.