By: Tini Thangjam
When we talk about microorganisms, we usually assume it as those organisms that cause us harm by spreading diseases.While it is true that some do cause diseases and infections, there are some that contributes towards boosting our health.The human gut is home to a complex community of trillions of microorganisms known as gut microbiota.These microorganisms play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and well-being.It contains both helpful and potentially harmful microorganisms. In a healthy body, they coexist in a balance without any problems. A balanced gut microbiota is essential for digestion, nutrient absorption and overall well-being. However, the modern lifestyle, with poor diet, high stress and excessive use of antibiotics, this delicate harmonious balance is disrupted, leading to development of various health issues. This is where probiotics come into play. Therefore, today we will be diving deep into the rabbit hole of probiotics.
The word “probiotic” stems from the Greek words- “pro” meaning “for” and “bios” meaning “life”. Even though, the concept of beneficial microbes has been known for centuries it was Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff in the early 20th century, who first proposed that consuming live cultures of beneficial bacteria, such as those found in yogurt, could enhance and prolong life. Now according to the World Health Organization, “Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.They have become a buzzword in the realm of health and have garnered much attention. Probiotics are either bacteria or yeasts;mostly bacteria. Its primary function is to help restore the balance of gut microbiota by enhancing the growth of the beneficial bacteria andinhibiting the growth of harmful ones. They do so by competing for resources and space with the pathogenic ones (disease causing microbes). They are also often termed as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria. This restoration ultimately helps alleviate digestive issues (bloating, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome) and immune problems. Its significance is also widely discussed in journals for instance, the World Journal of Gastroenterology.In addition, they strengthen the gut barrier which is essential in preventing leaking of harmful substances into the bloodstream. This can help reduce inflammation and promote overall gut health.
As a significant portion (70%) of immune system resides in the gut, probiotics interact and stimulate the intestinal immune cells and help modulate specific immune functions. This interaction help regulate the immune system and maintain appropriate immune responses. It helps the body to produce natural antibodies and activate immune cells. Furthermore, they have also been found to reduce the risk and duration of respiratory tract infections and can even improve vaccination responses. Some strains are also known to produce lactic acid and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by the fermentation of dietary fibre and in turn creates an acidic environment favourable for the growth of beneficial bacteria.However, one should not confuse probiotics with prebiotics. Prebiotics are high fibre food which acts as a food for the gut microbiota or probiotics. Consuming probiotics along with prebiotics will be the best combo for a healthy gut.
An interesting study has found a link between consuming probiotics and mental health. It shows that the gut and the brain are connected with what is known as the gut-brain axis. They are linked through biochemical signaling of the nervous system in the intestinal tract and the central nervous system, which includes the brain. Disruption of this link is associated with conditions such as anxiety and depression. Probiotics has shown a potential promise in improving mental health by controlling this link through modulating gut microbiota.For example, a study published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that drinking milk containing four probiotic bacteria species for 12 weeks helped Alzheimer’s patients score better on a test that measures cognitive impairment as compared to drinking regular milk. Similarly, there are various other studies that shows the relation between the gut and the brain and effect of probiotics on this axis . As its too early to determine the exact role of probiotics, numbers of researches are undergoing to find out more about this relation. However, we can safely assume that it definitely has the ability to improve mental health.
Furthermore, it is effortless to include it in our diets. We have been incorporating it without some of us even realizing it. It can be done through consumption of yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented foods. However, we should be aware that probiotics consists of different strains of bacteria and be careful while choosing it, specially while taking probiotics supplements one should consult an expert regarding the specific strain to consume and its dosage. Even though probiotics are considered safe, people with supressed immune system, those who had recent surgery or are undergoing some treatment or for women in the last trimester of their pregnancy, should not consume probiotics.
As science continues to unravel intricacies of the gut microbiota, we can expect a great deal of evolution in the field of probiotics. Probiotics have emerged as essential allies in the quest for revolutionizing human health. They are more than just friendly bacteria, they are guardians of gut health essential for our well-being. They are microscopic heroes taking a proactive step towards nurturing the digestive system, balancing gut microbiota, fortifying immune defences and leading to potentially even a happier mind. In coming years, probiotics are likely to be more personalized leading a huge leap towards a harmonious gut and healthier life.
(The writer has finished her Bachelors in Food Technology from College of Food Technology CAU, Lamphel, Manipur.)
Probiotics: Gut’s Best Friend
By: Tini Thangjam