Probiotics are live-microorganisms that provide beneficial effects when consumed, especially for the digestive system. They are most commonly bacteria and yeasts not confined to a single species. Basically, these are “healthy-microbes”and cannot be confused with the routine word “microbes” that we denote for infection causing harmful microorganisms.

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Eating microbes?

Human body itself is a reservoir to vast community of microorganisms collectively called as microbiome. This microbial community is acquired during the journey of foetus through the birth canal.
Hundreds of different species of bacteria, archaea, protozoa,yeasts and viruses entirely make the gut flora.Gut flora resides in large intestine and performs numerous beneficial activities.
Specific species of microbiome are active in synthesis of vitamin B and K. Few species are involved in metabolism of sterols and bile acids. The carbohydrates that are not digested in upper part of intestine are fermented and absorbed by the action of colonal microflora. Some strains are involved in metabolizing the fibre in diet. Fibres are shortened into simple butyrate, acetates and propionates that strengthen the gut wall which is known as gut barrier reinforcement. This is helpful for material reabsorption.

Shift from more of “good” bacteria to more of “bad” bacteria: Dysbiosis

Sometimes the gut flora is spoiled with changes in lifestyle. High sugar diet, life style deprived of physical exercise and overuse of antibiotics can lead to gut dysbiosis. Intake of unwashed fruits and vegetables can render an unwanted chemical (pesticide) load for the bowels which disturbs naturally inhabited bacteria.
gut dysbiosis

Sometimes antibiotics administered for treating infectious diseases can have a negative shadow on the gut environment leading to clearance of numerous “good-microbes”.
This is where the probiotics work. Probiotics are living microorganisms that maintain healthy digestive tract by allowing the colonization of useful bacteria. They improve gut function and digestion by protecting the gut flora from harmful species.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics are the live bacteria or yeasts that are naturally present in fermented foods, available as dietary supplements and added to other food products.
Probiotics cannot be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible complex carbohydrates like inulin and fructo- oligosaccharides. Prebiotic diet is the metabolic fuel for gut flora and helps improving their number by active colonization.

Prebiotics as baits for microbiome!

Prebiotics are generally the oligosaccharides that are resistant to digestive enzymes of anterior parts of digestive tract. So, they remain intact till they reach colon where they are fermented to short chain compounds. The existing microbiota feed on these short chain compounds and multiply in number. Thereby, the healthy colonies grow up and healthy gut is maintained well.
This could be the possible reason for our ancestors to include all kinds of natural products into diet. “A balanced diet for balanced health”.

probiotics and prebiotics healthy gut

Garlic, artichoke, banana, asparagus, chicory, lentils, bamboo shoots, rye, soy bean, wheat are naturally available prebiotic foods.
Commercially synbiotics are available which are a combination of probiotic microbes along with the prebiotic sugars for their feed.
Commercial preparations of probiotics are identified based on labels of the species, sub species, strains and alphanumeric strain designation. Most common genera available in probiotics are Lactobacillus, Escherichia, Enterococcus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, Saccharomyces.
Probiotic dietary supplements available as capsules, powders and liquids contain a mixture of cultures rather than a single specific culture of microorganisms.

Who can take?

Since probiotics are live and viable microorganisms, they can cause infection in people with severe illness and those suffering from compromised immune system.
Pregnant woman and people on special diet due to some pre-existing medical condition needs doctor advise before including probiotics into diet.
In healthy individuals they rarely cause infections. Advise of health care professional is better choice before opting for dietary supplements as capsules or liquids. Probiotics in form of yogurts are already popular in different flavours and are commercially available.
Gut bacteria are believed to play a crucial role in nutrient and energy extraction from food. They are involved in absorption of leftover carbohydrates from upper parts of intestine. Since probiotics are one best source for gut bacteria restoration, they are found effective in specific conditions.

Antibiotic associated diarrhoea

Long-term use of antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin can kill the useful bacteria in gut. People experience diarrhoea even after the infection is cleared off. Probiotics help in restoring the healthy gut environment.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Frequent stomach pain associated with bloating, changes in bowel movements, diarrhoea, constipation with discomfort mainly due to dysbiosis. Too many “bad” bacteria outnumbering too less “good” bacteria could be the possible cause for existing discomfort in IBS. Probiotic intake helps in easing the symptoms of IBS aiding the patients more of bowel comfort.

Facts in mind while purchasing

Probiotics are measured based on the colony forming units (CFU) which is an indication of number of viable cells. Some supplements may range to 10 billion CFU per dose while some products may have up to 50 billion CFU per dose.
Labelling regulations requires the manufacturers to mention total weight of microorganisms on the product. However, manufactures may voluntarily notify CFU count along with weight of microorganisms in the supplement fact sheet.
The weight on label includes both dead and live microorganisms. And there are chances that live microorganisms may be lost out. So, while the consumers are purchasing the product, it is better to cross check the CFU count at end of products shelf life rather than that at its manufacturing time.
Some probiotics need recommended storage conditions of refrigeration. While others need normal room temperature. Storage conditions are important for maintaining the viable count of microorganisms and consumers should be careful with this aspect.

Not all fermented products are probiotics

If any food containing live bacteria are probiotics, does all fermented food fall under category of probiotics?
There are several misconceptions over this question.
Though the fermented food contains active live cultures, they undergo additional processing like baking, filtering, pasteurization etc. Beer, Wine, Sourdough bread, Idli, Dosa are processed food and beverages that are made from fermented process. However, the live microbial (bacteria and yeasts) cultures are lost during the processing.

Probiotic supplements or probiotic foods?

Probiotics supplements available nowadays are specific commercial preparations free from allergens and artificial sweeteners. They are devoid of sweeteners that is helpful in maintaining the body’s sugar balance.
Few people are allergic to gluten and soya. They cannot feed on the respective natural probiotics because there are chances that their system develops some other problem rather than easing the situation. For them probiotic supplements are better option rather than the natural ones.
Probiotic dietary supplements are either single of combination of one or two specific microbial strains that can address a specific health discomfort. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus containing probiotic supplements are effective against lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is most common in adults where they develop a discomfort in digesting milk products and the bacteria L. acidophilus is helpful in mitigating the discomfort. L. rhamnosus works well with symptoms of antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
Pushing apart with probiotic supplements, probiotic foods are a rich source of essential micronutrients. They are plant based unprocessed foods and so are the source of “raw antioxidants” that can fight against oxidative stress and associated damage.

In the Schedule VII and VIII of FSSAI, all the permitted pre and probiotics are listed. These probiotics are used in the food supplements must have non GMO.

Below are the list of approved pre and probiotics: 

Schedule –VII
List of strains as probiotics (live micro-organisms)

S. No. Name of the Microorganism
1.         Lactobacillus acidophilus
2.         Lactobacillus plantarum
3.         Lactobacillus reuteri
4.         Lactobacillus rhamnosus
5.         Lactobacillus salivarius
6.         Lactobacillus casei
7.         Lactobasillus brevis
8.         Lactobacillus johnsonii
9.         Lactobacillus delbrueckii sub- sp. bulgaricus
10.       Bacillus coagulans
11.       Lactobacillus fermentum
12.       Lactobacillus caucasicus
13.       Lactobacillus helveticus
14.       Lactobacillus lactis
15.       Lactobacillus amylovorus
16.       Lactobacillus gallinarum
17.       Lactobacillus delbrueckii
18.       Bifidobacterium bifidum
19.       Bifidobacterium lactis
20.       Bifidobacterium breve
21.       Bifidobacterium longum
22.       Bifidbacterium animalis
23.       Bifidobacterium infantis
24.       Streptococcus thermophilus
25.       Saccharomyces boulardii
26.       Saccharomyces cerevisiae
27.       Lactobacillus paracasei
28.       Lactobacillus gasseri

Schedule – VIII
List of prebiotic compounds

S. No. Prebiotic Compounds
1.         Polydextrose
2.         Soybean oligosaccharides
3.         Isomalto-oligosaccharides
4.         Fructo-oligosaccharides
5.         Gluco-oligosaccharides
6.         Xylo-oligosaccharides
7.         Inulin
8.         Isomaltulose
9.         Gentio-ologsaccharides
10.       Lactulose
11.       Lactoferrin
12.       Sugar alcohols such as lactitol, sorbitol, maltitol, inositol, isomalt
13.       Galacto-oligosaccharides

/Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is just for the information of General Health Supplements. Science Arena Does not claim any health benefits nor its authors in any form, all the data and information shown are based on the personal experience and reference health data taken from Health practitioner. [Not For Medicolegal Purpose]/

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