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The terms "probiotics", "bifidus", "contains live cultures" or similar words and phrases are becoming ever-more prevalent on food product labels in supermarkets, but what do they refer to?
A brief history lesson
The use of live microorganisms in therapeutic treatments goes back a long way, and even dates back to before the discovery of their existence. The concept of probiotics was introduced early in the last century by Professor Metchnikoff, who stated that the consumption of the live microorganisms found in yogurt was associated with an improvement in gastrointestinal functions - and that they could even help in extending life expectancy. Today the definition of probiotic microorganisms, as established by the FAO / WHO in 2001, “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.
However, beyond this general definition, what are probiotics?
In general terms we are referring to specific strains of lactic acid bacteria (different species of the genus Lactobacillus), bifidobacteria, and several specific strains of yeast and bacteria that have been isolated from food or from the human intestinal tract. To qualify as probiotics, and in addition to providing health benefits, microorganisms must be able to survive the conditions of the digestive tract and proliferate in the host's intestine. The beneficial effects of probiotics’ biological activity are extremely varied and may affect different systems of the human body, in accordance with the mode of action of the chosen microorganism. Health benefits of probiotic microorganisms are strain-specific.
And what are their benefits?
The most widely recognized benefits that come from consuming foods rich in probiotics or isolated strains comprise an improved immune response and a reduction in the appearance or duration of certain types of diarrhoea, including viral and bacterial diarrhoea, as well as those provoked by the consumption of antibiotics. Taking certain probiotics is also associated with both the treatment and the prevention of other common gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease or Helicobacter pylori infections. This category could include the yogurt bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which, despite their inability to survive in the human digestive tract, do help in the digestion of lactose, plus a certain capacity to modulate immune response has been associated with their consumption.
Other conditions that are open to treatment using probiotics include allergies, genitourinary infections, the reduction of blood cholesterol levels or cavities, and even protection against several types of carcinogenic activity, to mention but a few. Nonetheless, extensive in vivo studies are required in order to be able to develop effective probiotic-based therapies, and most medical experts recommend bacteriotherapy as an adjunctive therapy, rather than as a primary treatment.
For more information on how consuming probiotics can improve your health, we recommend visiting the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) at https://isappscience.org/
If you are interested in acquiring probiotic microorganisms to enrich your food products, please feel free to consult our experts and obtain our probiotic microorganism catalogue.