The idea that bacteria are beneficial can be tough to understand. We take antibiotics to kill harmful bacterial infections and use antibacterial soaps and lotions more than ever. The wrong bacteria in the wrong place can cause problems, but the right bacteria in the right place can have benefits. This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses. Promoting a healthy digestive tract and a healthy immune system are their most widely studied benefits at this time. These are also commonly known as friendly, good, or healthy bacteria. Probiotics can be supplied through foods, beverages, and dietary supplements.
The root of the word probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning “promoting,” and biotic, meaning “life.” The discovery of probiotics came about in the early 20th century, when Elie Metchnikoff, known as the “father of probiotics,” had observed that rural dwellers in Bulgaria lived to very old ages despite extreme poverty and harsh climate. He theorized that health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in sour milk. Since then, research has continued to support his findings along with suggesting even more benefit.
Prebiotics VS Probiotics
Importance of microorganisms for your gut
The complex community of microorganisms in your gut is called the gut flora, gut microbiota, or gut microbiome (14).
The gut microbiota includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and helminths — with bacteria comprising the vast majority. Your gut is home to a complex eco-system of 300–500 bacterial species.
Most of the gut flora is found in your colon, or large intestine, which is the last part of your digestive tract.
Surprisingly, the metabolic activities of your gut flora resemble those of an organ. For this reason, some scientists refer to the gut flora as the “forgotten organ”.
Your gut flora performs many important health functions. It manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins (18).
It also turns fibers into short-chain fats like butyrate, propionate, and acetate, which feed your gut wall and perform many metabolic functions.
These fats also stimulate your immune system and strengthen your gut wall. This can help prevent unwanted substances from entering your body and provoking an immune response.
Your gut flora is highly sensitive to your diet, and studies show that an unbalanced gut flora is linked to numerous diseases.
These diseases are thought to include obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression.
Probiotics and prebiotic fibers can help correct this balance, ensuring that your “forgotten organ” is functioning optimally.
Benefits of taking probiotics
Not all probiotics are the same. Different strains of the bacteria have different effects. For example, one strain may fight against cavity-causing organisms in our mouths and don’t need to survive a trip through our guts.
Research has been promising for these friendly critters. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of
- irritable bowel syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)
- vaginal infections
- urinary tract infections
- recurrence of bladder cancer
- infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficile
- pouchitis (a possible side effect of surgery that removes the colon)
- eczema in children.
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