More on probiotics
A growing awareness of the relationship between diet and health has led to an increasing demand for food products and dietary supplements that enhance health as well as provide basic nutrition. Scientific studies have shown that ingestion of specific strains of friendly bacteria — probiotics — enhances several physiological functions, particularly the body’s natural defence system and intestinal well-being.
Probiotics are live micro-organisms which, when administrated in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. While the traditional delivery vehicle for probiotics was fresh dairy products, they are now found in many varieties of food, beverages, dietary supplements and healthcare products.
Most probiotics are either lactobacilli or bifidobacteria. In particular, bifidobacteria constitute a major part of the beneficial microflora naturally present in the intestinal tract of humans and animals. A balanced intestinal microflora is highly important to keeping the body in healthy working order.
Bifidobacteria are of particular interest to scientists as they are often the most abundant bacteria found in the faeces of breast-fed infants. There is general consensus that they are the primary reason for the infants’ greater resistance to disease compared to formula-fed infants. In adults, bifidobacteria also remain a major component of the intestinal microflora.
Depending on the food consumed and other conditions, the levels of bifidobacteria in the intestine remain relatively stable throughout adult life. Maintaining sufficient levels of bifidobacteria is considered beneficial to health.
Lactobacilli have been used unwittingly for food fermentation since ancient times. Today the microbial nature of lactic acid fermentation is well known, and lactobacilli are used as starter cultures for the fermentation of food products such as yogurt, buttermilk, salami and pickled vegetables. In addition to their presence in fermented foods, lactobacilli are part of the natural microflora in the gut and urogenital tract. Studies have shown that ingestion of specific probiotic lactobacilli can help strengthen the immune system and reduce intestinal disorders. As with bifidobacteria, the consumption of probiotic lactobacilli can contribute to consumer health and well-being.