The Role of Probiotics

WHAT are probiotics and how can they help you? The definition of probiotics has been deliberated by experts from around the world.

A generally used classification, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UN), is that probiotics are "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."

Do not equate probiotics to prebiotics - food ingredients that are non-digestible, and selectively stimulate the growth or action of beneficial microorganisms already in people's colons. When probiotics and prebiotics are mixed together, they form a symbiotic.

Probiotics are now readily available in various foods and dietary supplements such as capsules, tablets and in powder form.

Some common foods containing probiotics are yogurt, milk, miso, and certain soya beverages. In probiotic foods and supplements, the bacteria may have been present originally or added during preparation.

A majority of probiotics consists of friendly bacteria that are similar to those naturally found in our intestines.

They come from two groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Within each group, there are different species such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus, and within each species, there are different strains.

There are many reasons why people are interested in probiotics. The world is full of microorganisms including bacteria, and so are people's bodies - in and on the skin, in the gut, and in other orifices. Friendly bacteria are vital for:

Play an important part of the development of the immune system

* Protection against microorganisms  and environmental toxins that could cause disease

* Digestion and absorption of food and nutrients and improve the efficiency of the digestive tract

* Manufacture some of the B-vitamins

* Produce anti-bacterial substances that kill or deactivate hostile disease-causing bacteria

* Produce some cancer protecting substances

The mix of bacteria varies from person to person. Interactions between a person and the microorganisms, and among, microorganisms themselves, can be crucial to the person's overall health. This bacterial balancing act can be disrupted in two major ways:

* Antibiotics kill friendly and unfriendly bacteria in the gut. Some people use probiotics to try and offset the side effects of antibiotics like gas, cramps or diarrhoea. Similarly, some use probiotics to ease symptoms of lactose intolerance.

* Unfriendly microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi and parasites can also upset the balance. Researchers are studying whether probiotics may help to arrest these unfriendly microorganisms in the first place or even suppress their growth and activity in conditions

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