What Are Probiotics?

PROBIOTICS are live micro-organisms that are ingested like food and get deposited somewhere in the colon, where they make colonies and continue to stay. They are supposed to benefit our health in one way or another, and hence used as a form of medicine.
What are Probiotics?
Source - Wikimedia Commons (Probiotics can support body by synergistic behavior and resist infections)

Probiotics : The Friendly Bacteria

Probiotics are often referred to as 'friendly bacteria' or 'good bacteria', but all probiotics are not bacteria. Some of them are yeast, just like the ones used for fermentation. Others could be viruses or even fungi. The World Health Organisation defines probiotics as "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." These friendly micro-organisms can help the body in more than one way.

How Probiotics help

First of all, they keep the harmful bacteria away by not allowing them to settle in human body. This itself is a great help, because

by this action, these friendly probiotics prevent infection by harmful and dangerous bacteria and fungi. In fact, most of the probiotics actually live in our body under natural circumstances. Sometimes, they get destroyed because of different reasons, the most important of which is the use of antibiotics to treat some infection in some part of the body. The same antibiotic also kills the probiotic organisms, which leave the colon without its first form of defence and can get easily infected.

Hence use of antibiotics is one of the conditions for prescribing probiotics so that the probiotic defence system of colon remains intact.

Another benefit of probiotics is in the form of certain nutritional substances that they produce. Many such bacteria in the colon produce vitamins of the B group family. Again in case of use of antibiotics, this production of vitamins gets interrupted, and so often supplementary doses of vitamin B-complex are administered along with the antibiotics.

Probiotics & Prebiotics

Probiotics are different from PREBIOTICS, certain non-digestible food ingredients that when ingested, promote the growth of probiotics in the colon. Probiotics and prebiotics can be administered together to gain a synergistic effect.

Arguments against Probiotics

Many scientists and experts dispute

the usefulness of probiotics on the ground that evidence of their beneficial effect is not adequate. Yet, they have been used and to a large extent, there use has been free of any major side effects. In some cases, use of probiotics can cause flatulence or colic pains, but the severity of such symptoms is not too serious and the frequency of such side effects is also not very common, though more controlled studies in this area would help us know more about them.

The useful probiotics include bacteria like Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidus, yeasts such as Saccharomyces Boulardii. They are being analysed and tried for different ailments including helicobacter pylori infection of stomach which causes gastritis and stomach ulcers, tooth decay, infective diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and even skin and vaginal infections. Probiotics are being examined for the manner in which they can prevent the infection of harmful micro-organisms.

As of now, probiotics form a somewhat experimental field of medicine, but their use as alternative medicine is on the rise. In this regard one needs to be aware of the issues pertaining to side effects, as well as risks arising from non-standardization of the products. It is preferable to take one's physician or family doctor into confidence while trying these medicines. While some, like lactobacillus with vitamins are considered very safe, others may not always be equally free of risk. Proper consultation is therefore preferable while using them.
 



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