What are Probiotics?
The human body contains trillions of bacteria, distributed all over the inside, and on the outer skin of the body. These bacteria enter the body from food, air and water; stay in the body and grow colonies over time. Some are harmful bacteria (called pathogens) that trigger ailments and malfunction of the bodily functions, while some are good or beneficial bacteria. They aid and enhance the bodily functions. Such beneficial bacteria are called probiotics which translates into ‘for life’. Out of all the probiotics present in the human body, nearly 70 percent are present in the intestinal tract alone, which consists of the small intestine, large intestine and colon.
Why are they important?
Probiotics are vital to an individual’s overall health and provide the following benefits
- Regulate the quantum of friendly bacteria present in the digestive system and ensure good health
- Prevent and treat diarrhea caused by poor or unhealthy diet and the use of antibiotics
- Enhance mood and overcome mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and stress
- Improves heart health by lowering bad cholesterol in the blood and blood pressure
- Reduce the severity of allergic reactions and conditions like eczema
- Reduce the symptoms of digestive disorders and conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Improves immunity by boosting the production of IgA, T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells
- Help you lose belly fat and maintain overall weight
Sources of Probiotics
Probiotics are naturally found in some fermented foods and enter the body when such foods are ingested. Probiotic foods have been consumed for good health right from the Vedic times in ancient India, through Pharoahnic civilzation of ancient Egypt to medieval civilizations of the Far East.
Some of the popular proobiotic foods include: Curd (or yoghurt), buttermilk, kefir (kefir grains added to fermented cow or goat’s milk), sauerkraut (shredded cabbage fermented by lactic acid), tempeh (fermented soyabean patties), kimchi (fermented and spicy cabbage), Miso (made from fermented soyabeans and a type of fungus) and kombucha (fermented green or black tea).
The use of probiotics for treating ailments
In recent years, certain strains of probiotic bacteria have been used to treat certain ailments. Their utility comes from the ability to fight infections, modify gut PH, destroy pathogens and stimulate growth of immune cells. Examples include:
- Eczema – treated by Escherichia coli, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactococcus lactis
- Food allergies – treated by Escherichia coli
- Low immunity – treated by Bacillus circulans (PB7) and Lactobacillus plantarum (DSMZ 12028)
- The effect of antibiotics – treated by Enterococcus mundtii (ST4SA), Lactobacillus plantarum (423), Lactobacillus brevis (KB290, some Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains