What are Probiotics?
Updated: Oct 9, 2018
The term “probiotic” comes from the Greek words “pro” and ”bio”, which means ”for life”. Probiotics were first introduced in 1965 as a term to describe substances from microorganisms that stimulate the growth of other microorganisms, in contrast to antibiotics.
Probiotic microorganisms occur naturally in nature such as in the soil and on the surface of plants and actually, play essential roles in natural ecosystems such as in the composting and recycling of organic materials. In the human body, probiotic microorganisms can be found in the oral cavity, and the gut intestinal system. The probiotic bacteria in the gut, known as the "microbiome", play an essential role in the digestion of nutrients and boosting of the immune system. In fact, the total bacteria colony of the gut can weigh over 2 kilograms! The most common types of human probiotic microorganisms are: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Lactococcus, Streptococcus, Enterococcu
Probiotic microorganisms can be sub-cultured through fermentation, a process which people have used to preserve meat, dairy products, and vegetables since 6000 BC. Fermentation is no longer as prominent as it used to be, however, with a consequence of this being that we no longer get many of the good bacteria and by-products from fermentation that we used to. More than that, modern-day food practices often involve the application of pesticides, (such as herbicides, and fungicides) on crops and food produce, substances which can kill the good bacteria as well as the bad ones, which can result in a lack of support for the human microbiome through our dietary intake.
The modern-day probiotic
Today, probiotics supplements can be incorporated into food items and are often found in the form of pills, powders or dairy products, as probiotics are increasingly getting recognized for their effects on human everyday health and as well as therapeutic interventions targeting particular diseases. The current internationally used definition of probiotics draws on a statement given by the FAO and WHO from 2002 which reads:
"live strains of strictly selected microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host"
The supplementation of probiotic bacteria can benefit the microbiome and its functions, which the people fermenting foods for thousands of years have unwittingly been benefiting from. It is not until recent microbiological understanding of fermentation and gut bacteria, that we have been able to understand the causes and functions of fermentation and gut health. Recent biomedical research has thus allowed crucial understandings of the human gut microbiome in relation to health and diseases, and identified a wide range of functions that these bacteria play, contributing to numerous metabolic, physiological, nutritional and immunological processes.
The gut bacteria in the microbiome benefits the host by fighting pathogens, regulating the immune system and fat storages, and supporting the digestion of food. Studies also find clear linkages between imbalances in the microbiome and inflammatory and metabolic disorders related to various chronic diseases The composition of the microbiota can be influenced by environmental factors such as diet, alcohol intake and use of antibiotics.
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Probiotic Advisors (2018). What are Probiotics? Retrieved from https://www.probioticadvisor.com/probiotic-essentials-1/what-are-probiotics/