All diseases begin in the gut- Hippocrates
When one says bacteria, the first thing that comes to mind is infections and illnesses but this perception is not completely true, there are some good bacteria that are beneficial to human health and these are called probiotics. Probiotics were first introduced by a Russian scientist, Élie Metchnikoff, also considered as the inventor of probiotics,who suggested the possibility of modifying the gut bacteria and replacing harmful microbes with useful microbes.
Probiotics are defined as live microbial food supplements that when ingested in adequate amounts as part of food are beneficial to the health by improving its intestinal microbial balance. Probiotics include bacteria such as lactic acid bacteria like L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. casei, Bifidobacterium like B. bifidum, B. longum, B. breve and certain yeast species. However, all lactic acid bacteria cannot be considered as probiotics because probiotics have certain characteristics like
- They should be able to survive in the acids that are present and be viable in the human GI (gastro intestinal) track
- They cannot be pathogenic or toxic
- They should be able to utilize or digest nutrients
- They should be able to attach and grow in large intestine to provide beneficial effects
Scientific studies about gut health have revolutionized our understanding of probiotics and how their interaction with the rest of the human body is. The gut or the gastrointestinal tract starts from the mouth all the way to the anus and the microbiota present in the gut helps in the development of cells and tissues, production of vitamins including folate, vitamin B12, vitamin K, riboflavin (B2) and thiamine(B1), in the fermentation of nondigestible substrates like dietary fibre, the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are involved in various mechanisms in the body and have shown to reduce insulin resistance and diet induced obesity.A dysbiosis or microbial imbalance in the gut may lead to diet induced obesity, increase in cholesterol levels, metabolic complications, impair the immune function, alter energy regulation and hormone regulation, risk of certain types of cancers like colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, anxiety, etc.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
- Supplementationduring diarrhoea that is caused due to intake of antibiotics helps to stabilize the dysbiosis
- Lactobacillus is beneficial during traveller’s diarrhoea that is two or more unformed stools in 24 hours in a traveller
- Helps to inhibit the growth of pathogens and harmful bacteria that cause dental plaques and caries
- It helps shorten the duration of acute diarrhoea and also helps in prevention and treatment of rotaviral infections in children, and is usually added in the infant formulas during the treatment.
- Beneficial in reducing the severity of irritable bowel syndrome and relieving symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating, constipation and abdominal pain.
- Useful in the treatment and management of autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- An individual’s inability to digest lactose or milk sugar is known as lactose intolerance. This undigested lactose can cause intestinal bacteria to ferment, resulting in watery stools or diarrhoea.Probiotic supplementation in the form of yogurt will deliver the lactase enzyme where it will help in the breaking down of lactose before it reaches the colon.
- Help in improving lipid profile like reduction in bad cholesterols like LDL cholesterol and triglycerides but increasing the good HDLcholesterol and thereby preventing coronary heart disease by reducing the cholesterol synthesis in the liver, fermenting indigestible carbohydrates and producing SCFAs and interfering with the cholesterol absorption from the gut.
- Some probiotics help in reducing body weight and fat mass and also reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance.
- Improve the immune function and fight viral infections by protecting against harmful antigens by activating lymphocytes and producing antibodies.
- They also help to regulate the secreted cytokines, produce antibodies and enhance antioxidant enzyme activities all of which reduces the risk of intestinal diseases, alleviate allergies and defence against pathogenic infections.
- Probiotics help to prevent cancer by detoxifying ingested carcinogens, alter the environment of intestines, decreasethe number of bacteria producing carcinogens and stimulate the immune system to fight against tumour cell growth.
- Probiotics have also been shown to be beneficial in reducing respiratory tract infections and have influenced the inflammatory cytokine production in the lungs, which has been seen in Covid-19 which is probably why probiotics were recommendedto infected patients, to reduce the risk of secondary infections and to regulate the balance of intestinal microbiota which explains why they may be used in the treatment and management for covid-19.
Incorporating probiotics in the diet
- Yakult is advertised as the number one source of probiotics and there are many other probiotic supplements that are available in the market as well but along with these here are some ways you can add probiotics in your diet
- Yogurt certainly does contain probiotics and is one of the simplest probiotic foodso having it in the form of milkshakes or smoothies by adding some fruits, berries, seeds and nuts is a good and healthy option
- Nowadays, certain types of milksand juices are also available with added probiotics
- Include dahi/curd, traditional buttermilk or lassi with your meals
- Types of cheese including cottage (paneer), cheddar, mozzarella and gouda also contain probiotics
- Tempeh is a fermented popular product usually used as a protein-rich meat substitute. When frying, it is best to add tempeh at the end of the cooking process, because overheating can kill the active bacteria
- Probiotic rich drinks like kefir that is made from milk of goat, cow, coconut, soy, sheep, etc and is also traditionally made by culturing milk with kefir grains and kombucha which is a sweet drink made by fermenting sweetened tea with bacteria and yeast.
- South Indian staples like idli and dosa that are prepared by fermenting rice and urad dal which makes them a rich source of probiotics too
- Consuming traditional achaars or pickles that are made by fermenting different types of food or sauerkraut that is finely cut fermented cabbageare also a good option.
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