What are probiotics and exactly how do they work in the digestive system? They are good bacteria, which naturally occur there, aiding in the break down of food so nutrients may be absorbed into our system. They also maintain good health and help fight disease. This is the opposite of what we usually think bacteria would do, but the fact is that this class of bacteria is actually healthful and helpful.
The digestive tract naturally maintains a delicate balance of both bad and good bacteria. There are literally trillions of total bacteria living there. Many situations can upset this balance, stress, poor diet, alcohol, antibiotics and infections to name a few. When this happens, many symptoms can occur like gas, constipation or diarrhea. An imbalance left untreated over time can compromise the immune system. Some may choose to take supplemental probiotics to ward off any imbalance. This should be discussed with a doctor before doing so. There are, however, some foods where it occurs naturally, such as yogurt, although frozen yogurt doesn’t usually contain any.
The name probiotics is really an umbrella for about a hundred species of microorganisms or intestinal flora. They are sometimes called acidophilus. Two well-known species are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Lactobacillus was first identified by Louis Pasteur a pioneer in modern microbiology. These organisms increase acidity in the digestive tract and produce substances that act like natural antibiotics to ward off other unwanted microorganisms or pathogens not allowing them to multiply and take over causing discomforting symptom and perhaps leading to illness. They also aid in the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates and fats in the foods we eat allowing for the absorption of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. This how we get the nourishment out of the foods we eat. Acidophilus is also a good source of lactase, the enzyme missing for those who are lactose intolerant which usually happens as we age, and is thought to produce some B vitamins. Probiotics play multiple important roles.
Recent advances in microbiology and intestinal bacteriology have produced results, which may substantiate the important role lactobacillus plays in human health. It is usually recommended that a regime for good health contain taking vitamin supplements along with getting some exercise and eating healthful, nutritious foods. It is the inclination of this writer that the inclusion of probiotic supplements would be important to good health, but again, this should be discussed with a doctor. If probiotics can enhance immune function, it could be said that a great deal of this function exists in a healthy digestive environment. Russian Nobel Prize winning physiologist, Metchnikoff thought so too. His research suggested that aging was caused by putrefaction and fermentation in the intestines and that taking yogurt into the system would help prevent it. Remember the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?” Well today, so can a cup of yogurt as the importance of beneficial bacteria becomes accepted not only in alternative healing therapies but in traditional ones as well.