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1 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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PROBIOTICS – How Useful Are They

By Dr Shamim Ahmed
PROBIOTICS – How Useful Are They

Our planet is full of microorganisms. Our bodies are home to a mix of good and bad bacteria. They are almost everywhere – mouth, gut and skin. Probiotics are live microorganisms, in most cases, live bacteria or yeasts, which are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut. Probiotics are often called ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ bacteria because they help keep our gut healthy. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), probiotics are “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines . The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. Friendly bacteria may help improve immune function, protect against hostile bacteria to prevent infection and improve digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.

Certain strains of probiotics have been linked to all sorts of health benefits. The health benefits have been suggested to include acting as a remedy for gastrointestinal (GI) complications, such as irritable bowel syndrome and traveller’s diarrhoea, enteritis, constipation; decreasing allergic inflammation; treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and fighting immune deficiency diseases. They are sometimes used with antibiotics to combat diarrhoea that may result from taking antibiotics. Researchers are still trying to figure out which probiotics are best for certain health problems.

The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yoghurt with live cultures, is the best known. Bifidobacterium are believed to produce beneficial compounds such as B vitamins, lactic acid, and acetic acid to lower the pH of the intestine as to inhibit the growth of the harmful bacteria. They also produce natural antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria. Study has shown that other Lactobacillus species such as L rhamnosus and L plantarum help detoxify the gut and enhance immune function.

Probiotics are naturally found in our body and are also available in the form of dietary supplements (capsules, tablets and powders) and in foods like yoghurt, fermented and unfermented milk and soy beverages. In probiotic foods and supplements, the bacteria may have been present originally or added during preparation. The largest group of good bacteria is the one found in yoghurt.

The prebiotic comes before and helps the probiotic, and then the two can combine to have a synergistic effect, known as synbiotics. A prebiotic is actually a nondigestible carbohydrate that acts as food for the probiotics and bacteria in our gut. Most of the prebiotics identified are oligosaccharides. They are resistant to the human digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates. This means that they pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They then get fermented in the lower colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that will then nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there. Oligosaccharides can be synthesised or obtained from natural sources. These sources include wheat, banana, tomatoes, barley, lentils, milk, mustards, onion, garlic, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane juice and honey.

Our digestive tracts are lined with hundreds of good bacteria that help fight off infection and keep us healthy. Under normal conditions, friendly bacteria in the gut outnumber the unfriendly ones. This bacterial balancing act can be disturbed in two major ways:

-Unfriendly microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites can also upset the balance. Probiotics can act as the beneficial bacteria that create a physical barrier against unfriendly bacteria. Probiotics are assumed to halt these unfriendly agents in the first place and or suppress their growth and activity. Use of antacids and other acid inhibiting drugs, laxatives, steroids and stressful conditions may also cause imbalance of friendly intestinal bacteria.

- Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the harmful ones, often leading to gas, cramping or diarrhoea. Probiotics can help offset the bacterial imbalance caused by taking antibiotics. Similarly, some help ease symptoms of lactose intolerance, a condition in which the gut lacks the enzyme needed to digest sugar in milk, and which also causes gastrointestinal symptoms.

Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how probiotics work. Scientists are not exactly sure but surmise that the good bacteria replace the bad bacteria in the intestinal tract. Inside the gut, it fights against pathogenic ones to consume more nutrients, so the pathogenic bacteria die due to lack of nutrients. Another theory is that the good bacteria produce antimicrobial substances, organic acids, keep the intestinal tract acidic and decrease the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Moreover, the good bacteria degrade the dietary toxins and make them less toxic to the body.

Only recently, probiotic has gained importance for their health benefits. Not all probiotics are the same. Different strains of the bacteria have different effects. What’s less well understood is whether probiotics can improve our health. Replenishment of the gut with viable, beneficial bacteria may have multiple positive effects. By consuming foods with probiotics, one can increase the number of healthy bacteria, boost immunity, and promote a healthy digestive system.

So far, FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has approved no specific health claims for probiotics. Further, the amounts of probiotics that studies have found to be beneficial vary from strain to strain and condition to condition. Several pharmaceutical companies produce probiotics. The production of these drugs should be strictly monitored to get the desired effect. n

Photos: Internet.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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