Probiotics and Probiotic Supplements

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Probiotics are living microorganisms (bacteria), which are believed to help improve digestion by favorably altering the balance of intestinal micorflora. Common probiotics include Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacterium species and certain yeasts. Probiotics have an extensive history of use as dietary supplements. Cultured dairy products that contain probiotics such as kefir, koumiss, leben and dahi were used for their therapeutic effect long before probiotics were ever recognized or understood. Early bible references mention food products that are known today for their probiotic content.

Researchers and scientists are actively trying to develop target-specific probiotics that contain bacteria that offer specific health-enhancing properties. Today probiotics are entering the marketplace in the form of advanced nutritional supplements and functional food products.

Common Probiotics

Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria are commonly found throughout the colon of both humans and animals. Bifidobacteria quickly colonize newborn infants soon after birth, especially those that are breast-fed. Most of the time populations of bifidobacteria in the colon remain relatively stable throughout life, only declining in old age. However, there are a number of factors, including diet, antibiotics and stress that can influence normal bifidobacteria concentrations. Bifidobacteria are non-motile, non-spore forming and catalase-negative and come in various shapes and sizes. The guanine and cytosine content of their DNA is between 54 mol and 67mol. The are saccharolytic microorganisms that produce acetic and lactic acids without generation of CO2, except during degradation of gluconate. To date, 30 species of bifidobacteria have been identified.

Lactobacilli

Lactobacilli are usually found in human intestine and vagina. They are non-spore forming, non-flagellated, gram-positive facultative anaerobes. The guanine and cytosine content of their DNA is between 32 mol and 51 mol. They are either aerotolerant or anaerobic and strictly fermentative. There are 56 known species of lactobacilli bacteria.

Streptococcus Thermophilus

Streptococcus Thermophilus, a lactic acid bacteria, is found in milk and milk products. It is a helpful probiotic that is used in the production of dairy products, including yogurt. This probiotic is a gram-positive facultative anaerobe that is non-spore forming, nonmotile and homofermentative. Streptococcus salivarus is another similar probiotic strain of this bacteria.

Health Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics offer a number of benefits for the human body. In addition to promoting healthy digestion they are also believed to boost immune function, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, and increase resistance to certain infections and disease causing bacteria. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, in particular, produce organic compounds - such as lactic acid, acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide - that inhibit the reproduction of many dangerous bacteria. Certain probiotic strains are known to produce bacteriocins, which act as natural antibiotics. Recent research suggests that certain probiotics may also exhibit immunomodulatory and anticarcinogenic effects, as well as a number of other health benefits.

The results of one double blind trial suggest that Bifidobacterium lactic, a probiotic, may help to enhance immune function in the elderly. Additional research indicates that topical and oral use of probiotics (acidophilus) may help prevent vaginal yeast infection caused by candida overgrowth.

Severe diarrhea flushes the gastrointestinal tract and colon of helpful probiotic bacteria. Taking probiotic supplements following an episode of diarrhea can help replenish probiotic bacteria and may prevent infection. Supplementing with probiotics may even reduce the incidence of traveler's diarrhea caused by harmful bacteria found in contaminated water and foods.

Probiotics are especially useful for preventing new infections following antibiotic use. They help to recolonize the body with beneficial bacteria that was killed off while antibiotics were being taken. Research indicates that probiotic supplementation after antibiotic use may decrease the likelihood of new infection by 50.

Acidophilus, another microorganic probiotic, is a good source of lactase, the enzyme required to digest milk. Lactose-intolerant people may find acidophilus useful for aiding in the digestion of milk-based dairy products.

Supporting Literative

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