What are Probiotics? The top trending topic in health and wellness is probiotics. You’ve probably heard of them as “good” bacteria. With the growing interest in probiotics has come a virtual explosion of products, substantiated and unsubstantiated claims of health benefits, information and misinformation.
Consumers, like you, need help understanding what probiotics are, what they can and can’t do, and how to use that information to improve their health. Probiotics Life is your site for accurate, practical, and safe information.
With so much new information and many new products, The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognized a need for a specific definition and standards to classify a substance as a probiotic.
Standardization allows researchers from all over the world to communicate with mutual understanding, to provide public education, help consumers separate true probiotics from counterfeits, and to protect the public from those whose only goal is to profit, possibly at the expense of consumer wellbeing.
What are Probiotics? The Definition
The WHO and the FOA convened in 2001 to define and develop guidelines in regard to the characteristics of a substance which must be present to qualify it as a probiotic. The result of their collaboration is the widely accepted definition:
“Probiotics are live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” [1,3]
Probiotics in Food Guidelines
Guidelines were established for probiotics used in food. They must:
1) be resistant to gastric juices.
2) be able to multiply.
3) be eaten in foods that allow them to survive passage through the stomach and exposure to bile.
Benefits of Probiotics
When asking what are probiotics, we often want to learn about their benefits. The greatest impact of probiotics has been in the management of diarrhea. Probiotic therapy may help with irritable bowel syndrome. Additional conditions which may benefit from probiotics include:
1) vitamin and mineral absorption.
2) intestinal Inflammation.
3) lactose intolerance.
4) ulcerative colitis.
5) infant diarrhea.
6) high blood pressure.
10) leaky gut.
12) vaginal yeast infection.
The question what are probiotics also contains a sub-question: What are probiotic strains? The human body naturally has more than 500 different strains of probiotics. Supplementation of some probiotics have been shown to have health benefits. The three most-used, best-understood probiotics are discussed here.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most researched probiotic. It has been shown to help:
2) irritable bowel syndrome.
3) leaky gut syndrome.
4) reduce lactose intolerance.
5) increase absorption of calcium and the B vitamins.
Bifidobacterium infantis is the second most-studied probiotic. Benefits include:
1) reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
2) reducing inflammatory allergic responses.
3) reducing risks of kidney stones.
4) establishing healthy bacteria in infant digestive systems.
5) reducing deaths in very low birth weight infants.
Lactobacillus Helveticas has been shown to:
1) reduce blood pressure.
2) improve sleep quality.
3) normalize bacteria in the digestive system.
There are additional probiotics that are being studied, for virtually all types of disorders and organ systems. Even though, for some probiotics, there seem to be clear benefits, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to allow health claims to be made about probiotics.
You are invited to read more and learn about probiotics. Click here for the article What are lactobacillus and acidophilus?
What are Probiotics? References
1) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health (NIH).
2) Harvard Health Review (link).
3) Kligler B MD, Cohrssen A MD, Probiotics. Am Fam Physician 2008Nov1; 78(9):1073-1078