Probiotics have become very popular in recent times. They impart beneficial effects on humans. These are live bacteria like lactic acid bacteria and Bifido bacteria. They also include yeasts. All these micro-organisms provide good health, improve immune system, lactose intolerance, digestion, mental illness and neurological disorders and have shown to improve digestion. Commonly we think that bacteria cause diseases. However, there are both good and bad bacteria. As Probiotics keep the gut in a healthy condition they come under good bacteria. Our digestive system has most of the immunological system.
It is known that thyroid imbalances, chronic fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis and autism like diseases are caused in the GIT which could be inhibited by consumption of probiotics.The definition used at present was given by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, according to which probiotics are redefined as “live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” In relation to food the definition can be adjusted by emphasizing that the beneficial effect is exerted by the microorganisms “when consumed in adequate amounts as part of food.”
The mechanism of action has still not been explained completely. The beneficial effects are though due to the production of bacteriocins, short chain fatty acid, decrease in the gut pH, competitive inhibition of pathogens and adhesion to the intestinal mucosal membrane. Probiotic rich foods are like goat milk yogurt, kefir, coconut kefir, cereal based probiotic-rich foods. It is seen that high-quality fibre in diet promotes probiotics which could be soluble fibre like chia seeds and flaxseeds. They are also available commercially in the market by Danone, Amul, Campco, Nestle and other companies in India. Any commercial product should have minimum of 107 cfu/ml to impart the required health benefit.
As these products deal with live microbial culture cells it is important to check the labelling before purchasing like the quality of the product, High CFU count (15×107 to 108), survivability, colonization and multiplication in the gut. The cultures cells should be alive till the end of the shelf life to contribute beneficial effects and should be kept in refrigerated conditions.
By Renu Agrawal
(The writer is a well known scientist and is presently Advisor, CFTRI).