Probiotics refers to a broad group of nutritional supplements not to any individual ingredient or substance. It specifically refers to living bacteria and yeast (or some combination of microbes) which are helpful to us rather than harmful. The main purpose of probiotics is to help balance the good and bad microorganisms in our systems to achieve greater health and well-being.
It may sound a little creepy at first, but the human body houses literally billions of distinct, living microorganisms. The National Institutes of Health tells us the number of microbes in our intestines alone outnumbers the total number of cells we have in our bodies by ten to one! That's a lot of critters.
There are thousands of species of bacteria inside us which we refer to collectively as intestinal flora. Many of these microbes are not good, of course. Some cause us mild discomfort, while others can be more bothersome.
Probiotic supplements work to introduce helpful bacteria to our system and crowd out the ones which might cause us problems thereby restoring a healthy balance in our intestines. Basically, probiotics work to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria by pilfering their nutrients.
How long has this probiotics therapy been around? The first scientist to propose it was Russian scientist and Nobel prizewinner Eli Metchnikoff, who suggested in the early 1900s that it would be possible to modify our intestinal flora by replacing harmful microbes with useful ones. He had noticed certain rural populations in Europe which were known to consume large quantities of milk fermented with bacteria had exceptional longevity.
Metchnikoff died in 1916 but his work was picked up by other scientists in the United States who introduced the term probiotics in 1953.
It is difficult to describe an effect of probiotics because there can be so many depending on the particular microbes involved. There are thousands of species and each may have a slightly different impact.
Most often, probiotics are produced from common bacteria groups such as lactobacilli or bifidobacteria, or from various yeasts. A particular supplement may contain one of these, or a mixture. Within each of these broad categories are individual species, such as lactobacillus acidophilus or bifidobacterium bifidus.
And of course within each of these species are different strains ¦well, you get the idea.
Probiotics may improve nutrient absorption in the body, and support other functions such as:
Recent research has focused in particular on the molecular biology and genomics of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. The science of modern genomics is steadily providing new insights into bacteria and the human immune system.
- Dietary sources of probiotics are usually found in dairy products. For example, yogurt contains both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria two common types of bacteria used in probiotics.
- Other examples include fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, soy beverages, and certain juices. In probiotic foods, the bacteria may have been present originally or they might have been added during preparation.
The structure function claims made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These dietary supplement products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.