The word ‘probiotic’ actually means ‘for life’. The World Health Organisation define a probiotic as ‘live micro-organism which, when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits on the host’. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live in our digestive tract. Probiotics are microorganisms that are similar to the microorganisms that exist naturally in the human stomach. Most are bacteria but some can also be viruses or yeasts – tiny living organisms that can only be seen under a telescope. Probiotics help to keep the natural proportions of good bacteria in the digestive system. They are available in dietary supplements such as capsules, tablets, liquids and powders but can also be found in some foods. Examples of foods containing probiotics include yoghurt, fermented or unfermented milk, miso, tempeh and some juices and soy beverages.
Good bacteria are important for the proper development of the immune system, and for the effective digestion and absorption of food and nutrients into the body. The balance of good bacteria in the stomach can be upset mainly by taking antibiotics and also by the growth of bad bacteria such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi and parasites. Though Antibiotics kill bad bacteria, they can also kill good bacteria in the digestive tract. Probiotics counteract antibiotics (hence the name) and can be used to prevent the side effects of taking antibiotics such as gas, cramping or diarrhoea and increase the count of good bacteria in the gut which, as we have already discussed, to to keep a healthy digestive system. They can also be used to ease the symptoms of lactose intolerance. A diet high in processed carbohydrates (particularly sugars and starches) as well as chlorine, fluoride, alcohol and the contraceptive pill can also upset this balance. "Unfriendly" bacteria could be the cause of infectious diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers and many types of chronic stomach inflammation, tooth decay and periodontal disease, vaginal infections, stomach and respiratory infections that children acquire in day care and skin infections.
There are several reasons people are increasingly seeking out probiotics supplements for health reasons. While antibiotics destroys intestinal bacteria, probiotics feed the gut with beneficial bacteria such as the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains. By supplementing with a probiotic capsule, millions of live bacteria are added into the intestinal wall and can significantly inhibit bad bacteria growth, improve absorption and assimilation of vitamins and minerals, stimulate of the body’s immune system and production of certain vitamins including the important B group vitamins. Many of the readily available probiotics on the market today promote "general well-being," but scientists are increasingly discovering many more specific benefits from consuming foods with sufficient levels of probiotic bacteria. Probiotics can also be used to:
• Treat diarrhoea
• To prevent and treat infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract
• To treat irritable bowel syndrome or IBS
• To reduce recurrence of bladder cancer
• To shorten the length of intestinal infection
• To prevent and treat pouchitis
• To prevent and manage eczema
• To improve lactose intolerance - The bacterial strain commonly used in yogurt can produce lactase enzymes. Therefore, people with lactose intolerance and children suffering from intestinal infection can usually tolerate yogurt with an active culture.
In addition, new generations of probiotic bacteria are targeted at specific problems or areas of the body. A number of probiotic products are believed to be able to lower cholesterol for example. The ability of probiotic bacteria to support the immune system is very important, especially to the elderly and people suffering from weak.
So Probiotics are good bacteria that exist normally in the digestive system and play an important part in general health and wellbeing. Probiotics can be taken as dietary supplements and these can help with prevention and treatment of a wide range of diseases.