There are estimated to be approximately 400 bacterial species within the gastrointestinal tract. Now that’s a lot, in fact, so much so that they alone come to a total weight of two kilograms. They can be categorised under two main headings, and that is ‘friendly bacteria’ or ‘probiotics’ and harmful species known as ‘pathogens’. Probiotics are being studied more and more by researchers who now claim they can be used to treat a variety of conditions from cholesterol to the common cold. According to Euromonitor International, sales of probiotic supplements in the U.S. came to almost $770 million in 2011, up 22% from 2010. Dannon Activia is just one of the main brands of probiotics available to buy in supermarket aisles today.
The most important friendly bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Most cultures around the world will contain such lactobacillli in their diets in the form of yogurt, cheese, miso and tempeh. In order to provide any real benefit to the body, probiotics must provide organisms in a manner in which they are able to survive the hostile environment of the gastrointestinal tract.
The Main Benefits
- Probiotics are known to enhance barrier function and prevent pathogenic bacteria from binding with epithelial cells in the gut.
- Probiotics also produce anti-microbial substances such as hydrogen peroxide and bacteriocins (small proteins that attach to pathogenic strains, ultimately destroying them).
- Probiotics produce lactase that aid in the digestion of lactose.
- They produce B vitamins and vitamin K.
- Help to create an overall environment hostile to pathogenic bacteria such as e-coli and salmonella.
- Lower serum cholesterol.
- Stimulate the immune system and prevent food-borne pathogens from damaging bodily functions.
Probiotics have also shown numerous other benefits which are discussed below.
Acidophilus supplementation can be particularly useful in preventing and treating antibiotic-induced diarrhea.
L.Acidophilus can slow the growth of candida albicans, the main yeast involved in vaginal yeast infections. Clinical studies have too demonstrated that consistent intake of lactobacilli can certainly assist in the removal and prevention of recurrent vaginal yeast infections as well as bacterial vaginosis.
Numerous population studies have indicated that the consumption of high levels of cultured milk products can reduce one’s risk of developing colon cancer. L. bulgaricus, the main lactobacilli used in yoghurt has shown incredible anti-tumour activity. Indeed, the benefits of lactobacilli against cancer seem to extend far beyond the colon. In one double blind study of 138 individuals with varying levels of bladder cancer, participants were treated with lactobacillus casei and the results found that lactobacillus preparations were effective and safe in preventing recurrences of superficial bladder cancers.