Probiotics are preparations of live micro-organisms (usually including lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, streptococci, and some yeasts such as Saccharomyces, and moulds) which are believed to be beneficial to health by restoring microbial balance in the intestine.
Probiotics are the “friendly” bacteria that benefit the colon and therefore the immune system. They are produced for human consumption most often in dairy products containing two types of microbes, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. More recently, probiotic dietary supplements are becoming popular as a way to balance and promote a healthy disgestive system.
Probiotic foods are those that involve fermentation in their production; including miso, pickles, sauerkraut and fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir.
A new category called prebiotics is also now becoming familiar. Prebiotics refer mainly to certain foods, and occasionally to certain food products, that support probiotics by enhancing their survivability.
Prebiotics foods include artichokes, leeks, onions, oats, and whole grain breads and cereals, fructooligo-saccharides, or fruit derived, digestion resistant sugars (FOS), also in honey, and galacto-oligo-saccharides, which are the sugars in galactose-containing foods like goats milk.
Investigations in the use of probiotics as dietary supplements are recent, however, the use of fermented foods containing probiotics predates the use of refrigeration. The supplementation of natural microflora has been dated as early as the late nineteenth century. Even then, some physicians attributed diseases of aging to the build up of waste products (or, putrefaction) in the colon, and the leakage of related toxins into the bloodstream, called autointoxication.
The Lactobacilli bacteria, found in yogurt, was the first identified probiotic. In the 1920s and 1930s, many doctors recommended acidophilus milk, containing the Lactobacillus acidophilus, to treat constipation and diarrhea, which was effective for many patients.
In the 1950s, researchers were studying L. acidophilus intended to counteract the digestive side effects of taking antibiotics, known at that time to cause an imbalance of the intestinal microflora by killing of the beneficial along with the pathogenic bacteria.
Probiotic foods and dietary supplements have been recommended as treatments for a variety of diseases and disorders, ranging from problems confined to the digestive tract to general health issues. In particular, probiotic foods and dietary supplements are claimed to prevent intestinal disease by allowing the production of vitamins, particularly B3, B6, and folic acid, causing anti-tumor activity, supporting detoxification, enhancing the immune system by allowing the absorption of anti-oxidants from food, and supporting a cleaner liver and bloodstream.
The primary challenge for probiotic supplements is viability. In order to successfully colonize in the colon, the microbes must first survive the acidity of the stomach and the digestive processes of the small intestine. However, a probiotic which has been shown to have an increased chance of survivability and colonization is Lactobacillus GG (LGG).
People taking these supplements should do so with water, and not juice, since it is thought to stimulate the secretion of stomach acids that will decrease the survivability of the friendly bacteria.
As probiotic products include ordinary dairy products, most people do not think of them as medications and see no need to consult a health professional. People on prescription medications or with compromised immune systems however, are advised to consult with their physician before using probiotic dietary supplements, as they may influence the bulk and frequency of bowel movements, increasing the elimination rate of some medications and necessitating a dose adjustment.
Although probiotics are friendly bacteria, some food allergies may cause someone to have a digestive tract that is sensitive to miso, or other fermented foods the milk powders that may be present in some products.
Product reliability is a concern since supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the demonstrated difficulty of maintaining live probiotics, in or out of the body.
One study of the microorganisms in 25 dairy products and 30 powdered products found that more than one third of these products contained no living microorganisms, and only 13% of the products contained all of the bacteria types listed on the label.
The following guidelines are suggested for evaluating the effectiveness of probiotic products:
- Number of viable organisms. A number lower than 1 billion organisms per gram is considered inadequate for a therapeutic dosage.
- Type of organism. Single-strain products are considered more useful than multi-strain products on the grounds that the different bacteria in multi-strain products may compete with each other.
- Processing method. Products that have been put through a centrifuge or ultra-filtration system are thought to have fewer viable bacteria.
- Additives. Products that do not have hormones or other chemicals added to stimulate the growth of the bacteria are considered more effective.
- Form. Powdered supplements are considered preferable to liquids. Encapsulated powders are second-best, except in the case of LGG capsules.
- Storage. Probiotic products that are not refrigerated are thought to lose much of their effectiveness.
Most practitioners recommending probiotics encourage the use of loose powdered, refrigerated dietary supplements of friendly bacteria or LGG capsules.
The side effects of treatment with probiotics may include diarrhea, bloating, gas, or constipation. These side effects are attributed to the cleansing of toxins from the body and may last for some days. Practitioners recommend lowering the supplement dosage to reduce the side effects, or pretreating with fiber as tolerated or advised by a healthcare professional.
To Your Health!