Probiotics are live, nonpathogenic microorganisms that are typically bacteria or yeasts. The term “probiotics,” also called “good bacteria,” has its root in the Greek pro, meaning “promoting” and biotic, meaning “life.” The term includes some types of beneficial microbes that can be found in probiotic supplements as well as certain microbes added to food. The term also refers to the trillions of friendly microbes that typically live in our digestive tracts and other organs. Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods such as yogurt, aged cheese, and kimchi. Thus far, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved any health claims for probiotics.
People usually associate bacteria with infection and illness. However, most bacteria are not pathogenic for humans, and many play a very important role in supporting good health. Trillions of bacteria live on or in the human body, collectively known as microbiota, microbiome, or microflora.
Probiotics are found on the skin, in the respiratory system, and in the urinary tract, but most of them are in the gastrointestinal tract—some 100 trillion of them. These so-called gut bacteria greatly outnumber our body cells. Gut microflora get their nutrients from our bodies and create a healthy environment that protects us from illness and helps in disease control and the digestion of food. Probiotics and humans have a symbiotic relationship.
Considerable research has been done and continues to be done on the relationship between these bacteria and various aspects of overall human physical and mental health, including obesity, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, fatty liver disease, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disorders, and depression.
The gastrointestinal tract is an amazing metabolic machine. The surface area of the human gut is huge—about the size of a tennis court. Along this surface are nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria doing their important work — work that supports normal digestion. The numbers and balance of these bacteria vary. The numbers and balance are affected by diet, aging, geographical location, and environmental factors such as infections and the use of antibiotics.
How do gut bacteria facilitate health? They produce several B vitamins, vitamin K, and certain key fatty acids. The byproducts of bacterial interactions supply up to 10 percent of the body’s daily energy needs. In addition, gut bacteria play an important role in normal immune-system development. Their efficacy generally depends on a balance between the numbers and species of bacteria present. Disruptions of this balance can lead to significant problems with illness and disease.
Probiotics are vital for the immune system. They send signals to the immune system that reduce destructive overreactions, including inflammation. Insufficiency of probiotics affects immune responses and, hence, affect every aspect of our health.
Probiotics is a continuing education course available from the INR bookstore. Check it out… and more.