Probiotics emerged in the mid 1990's when health was starting to be taken seriously and people wanted to know more about keeping themselves healthy. Doctors were quick to suggest that these 'new' Probiotics may help with digestive problems, especially after a course of antibiotics, which not only destroy the bad bacteria that first cause the illness, but also destroy the good bacteria too. It was thought that taking Probiotics helped to put the good bacteria back in to the body, and so the knock on effect was that these little gems were added to just about everything from chocolate to yogurt.
Probiotics (meaning 'for life' in Greek) are live micro-organisms in the form of bacteria and yeasts. A bacteria can only be called a Probiotic if it is alive at the time of use, the amount used is large enough to create a physiological health benefit and if it meets certain standards. This is because there are only certain strains of bacteria that can be beneficial to our health, and these bacteria must closely resemble the bacteria that is naturally found in the gut.
Eating something that is considered 'live', can seem quite strange, consuming a 'live' bacteria can seem even stranger, especially as we usually associate bacteria with illness. But the fact is, eating foods with 'live' bacteria can actually help the body to fight the bad bacteria and stay healthy.
How Can Bacteria Be Safe?
Naturally occurring Probiotics are with us from the moment we are born, the mother passes bacteria to the baby during delivery and the newborn baby picks them up as it passes through the birth canal. Having said that, these bacteria are not passed to babies delivered by Caesarean section so the microflora in their gut is at a much lower level.
The bacteria in the human body outnumbers the body's cells by 10 to 1!! Quite surprising isn't it, but don't panic, most of the bacteria live inside the gut and are quite harmless. We have trillions of microbes and bacteria living in us and on us right now. They are on the skin, in the mouth and nose and many other parts of the body.
There is a complex ecosystem of microflora and microbiota, which contains around 400 bacterial species, living quite happily in the gastrointestinal tract, some live in the small intestines and stomach, but most live in the colon. This system helps in digestion, metabolizes some medications, it supports the functioning and development of the gut, enhances the immune system and synthesizes nutrients and vitamins. So all in all, these bacteria are pretty handy to have around.
Are There Different Types of Probiotics?
Probiotics have to be identified by their species, strain level and genus. There are a number of different types of Probiotics, the health benefits of each one are determined by the way they act in the gut.
There are over 50 species of the Probiotic called lactobacillus. These are found naturally in the digestive tract, as well as the urinary and genital systems. These bacteria are the same as the ones in fermented foods such as yogurt. Probiotic supplements also have lactobacilli added to them. Research has shown that lactobacillus is beneficial in preventing or/and treating yeast infections.
Next down the list is the bacteria called Bifidobacteria, around 30 species all together, these are found in the colon and make up most of the healthy bacteria that live there. These are the ones that appear in the intestinal tract soon after birth, and are more prevalent in babies who are breastfed. Bifidobacteria can help with improved blood lipids, IBS, glucose intolerance and even dental cavities!!!
3. Saccharomyces Boulardii
Sacchoromyces Boulardii is the only yeast Probiotic, it has been shown to have an effect in the treatment and prevention of diarrhea connected with the use of antibiotics and ‘travelers’ diarrhea. There is further proof that this Probiotic has been used successfully to treat acne, to prevent the recurrence of Clostridium difficile, and to reduce the side effects in the treatment used for Helicobacter pylori.
5. Enterococcus Faecium
This is a naturally occurring Probiotic which is found in the intestinal tract of both humans and animals.
Leuconostoc has been used extensively throughout history in the processing of foods. Consuming foods containing this live bacteria as well as dead bacteria and metabolites of this microorganism, has been part of human eating habits for a long time.
7. Streptococcus Thermophilus
This Probiotic produces large quantities of the lactase enzyme, which makes it effective in preventing lactose intolerance.
Probiotics As A Treatment
There is no guarantee that consuming bacteria will result in good health. Having said that, recent evidence would suggest that Probiotics have a host of other functions, including producing anti-infection agents, maintaining cell signals and preventing toxins from being released.
Our modern day eating habits leave little room for replenishing the beneficial bacteria in the body. However, if including foods rich in Probiotics is too much of a hassle, it is possible to take them through prepared supplements. Either way, adding Probiotics to your diet is the perfect way to restore the healthy balance of microbes to your system.
Regularly taking Probiotics can help to maintain the health of the urinary tract and genital system. They may play an important role in reducing the recurrence of bladder cancer, treat and prevent eczema in children, help to speed up the treatment of specific intestinal infections and be prevalent in reducing the severity of a cold or flu.
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Research is showing that Probiotics could be beneficial for the functioning of the brain. In a study on healthy women who regularly consumed a Probiotics yogurt, they appeared to have improved brain function.
Studies on taking Probiotics show that they can reduce cholesterol esters, in the blood, particularly those associated with saturated fatty acids.
Milk that has been fermented with strains of LAB may be beneficial in lowering blood pressure.
Further research on Probiotics, demonstrated that Lactobacillus Salivarius gave significant protection in cases of Listeria infection.
How to Take Probiotics
Probiotics enter the body through food and drink, they are mostly added to dairy foods especially yogurt and milk, If a yogurt states that it contains 'live active cultures', it means that the added Probiotics are the same as the ones used to start fermentation which turns milk into yogurt.
Probiotics are also found in some juices, miso and soy beverages, they can also come as a prepared supplement in either powder, tablet or capsules. Creams infused with Probiotic can be used on the skin, and or in some cases, injected into the intestines, but this must be done under medical supervision. It is advised however, to use caution when using Probiotics in this way as their safety, especially in children, the elderly and those whose immune system can be compromised, has not been thoroughly tested.
One thing that all these Probiotics have in common is that they are relatively safe. The body can tolerate them and they have no side effects. More research is still needed though, regarding the potential health benefits of Probiotics before any definite claims can be made about their effects, but research and use over the last few generations have shown that their claim to fame is looking very positive.