Probiotics: The Primary Food Supplement
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics have been defined as a live microbial feed supplement that beneficially influences the health of the host by improving the intestinal microflora. The use of probiotic bacteria in therapy is not a new invention. Yoghurt, containing probiotic bacteria have for hundreds of years been appreciated for its health bringing properties. Today, research is ongoing throughout the world to clarify the mechanism of probiotics. Intake of probiotic bacteria have many positive effects on health like:
- Increasing the digestion and absorption of nutrients
- Improvement of intestinal lactose digestion
- Improving the intestinal milieu
- Regulating the gut motility
- Stimulating the immune system
- Prevention of cancer
- Reduction of catabolic products eliminated by kidney and liver etc.
The concepts of Metchnikoff are thus finally being confirmed both experimentally and clinically. Metchnikoff (1845-1916) claimed in his theory of longevity that intake of yoghurt decreases the toxic effect of the colonic flora by inhibiting the growth of putrefactive bacteria in the large intestine. He further claimed that the toxic products produced by putrefactive bacteria are the cause of many ageing processes in our body and that the long life of Bulgarian peasants resulted from their consumption of fermented milk products. Continuous conditioning of the intestinal ecosystem is useful in medicine and should be routine care, particularly in aged individuals.
Why is there a need of probiotic bacteria today?
In modern times, we have dramatically changed the composition of bacteria entering our body via food and drinks. The intake of bacteria, preferably Lactobacillus species is highly reduced. In former times, fermentation was one of the main ways of preserving food, vegetables and dairy products. This assured a constant intake of lactic acid-producing bacteria. Today the situation has changed. Use of freezers, refrigerators and pasteurisation of feeds like dairy products and the use of different kinds of preservatives have replaced fermentation as a method for preservation of food. Today, most people do not get probiotic bacteria via the food in the same amount as in former times. As a matter of fact we get 2g faeces every day without knowing via contamination and by inhalation!
Uses of antibiotics in healthcare and agriculture, and the increased hygienic measures in modern society with antibacterial substances in cleaning agents, toothpaste, deodorants etc., have decreased the amount of total bacteria in our environment. Studies have shown differences between the intestinal microflora of people in developed and developing countries, both in infants and adults.
In developing countries, people have a more varied intestinal microflora with more strains and a higher turn-over of bacteria. In Western industrialised countries we have relatively few strains in the intestinal flora and we keep the same strains for longer periods maybe years. A higher turn-over of bacteria is certainly very important in keeping the immune system stimulated.
On top of this, we have today an increased interference on the bacterial ecosystem in our body compared to previous times, via a changed diet (rich in protein, transfats and refined products like sugar and poor in fibres), stress, increased intake of medicines like antibiotics, and environmental toxins etc. The need of probiotic bacteria is thus due to the many factors in our society that can damage the intestinal health and the fact that the intake of probiotic bacteria via the food has decreased. A healthy intestinal milieu is crucial for our health.
We have since the discovery of bacteria and the invention of antibiotics had the general idea that the major part of the microbes are pathogenic but it is in fact only a minor part of the thousand of bacterial species that are harmful to humans.High strength probiotics must be seen as the primary food supplement.