Probiotics are dietary supplements containing potentially beneficial bacteria or yeast. According to the currently adopted definition by FAO/WHO, probiotics are: ‘Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’.
1. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are the most common type of microbes used. LAB has been used in the food industry for many years, because they are able to convert sugars (including lactose) and other carbohydrates into lactic acid. This not only provides the characteristic sour taste of fermented dairy foods such as yogurt, but acts as a preservative, by lowering the pH and creating fewer opportunities for spoilage organisms to grow. Probiotic bacterial cultures are intended to assist the body's naturally occurring gut flora to reestablish themselves. They are sometimes recommended by doctors and, more frequently, by nutritionists, after a course of antibiotics, or as part of the treatment for gut related candidiasis. Claims are made that probiotics strengthen the immune system.
2. The rationale for probiotics is that the body contains miniature ecology of microbes, collectively known as the gut flora. A number of bacterial types are thought to be thrown out of balance by a wide range of circumstances including the use of antibiotics or other drugs, excess alcohol, stress, disease, or exposure to toxic substances. In cases like these, the bacteria that work well with our bodies (see symbiosis) may decrease in number, an event which allows harmful competitors to thrive, to the detriment of our health. Maintenance of a healthy gut flora is, however, dependent on many factors, especially the quality of food intake. Including a significant proportion of prebiotic foods in the diet has been demonstrated to support a healthy gut flora and may be another means of achieving the desirable health benefits promised by probiotics. Experiments into the benefits of probiotic therapies suggest a range of potentially beneficial medicinal uses for probiotics. For many of the potential benefits, research is limited and only preliminary results are available. It should be noted that the effects described are not general effects of probiotics. All effects can only be attributed to the strain(s) tested, not to the species, nor to the whole group of LAB (or other probiotics).
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