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    Volume 9 Issue 33| August 13 , 2010|

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An Alternative Medicine

Dr Shamim Ahmed

Fermented dairy products are actually good for you.

It all started in 1907 when Russian microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff (1845-1916) was the first to associate the large amounts of fermented dairy products with the good health and longevity of the Bulgarians.

Probiotics are live micro-organisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to beneficial micro-organisms found in the human gut. They are also called "friendly bacteria" or "good bacteria." According to World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), probiotics are "live micro-organisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."

Our planet is full of micro-organisms (including bacteria). Our bodies are home to a mix of good and bad bacteria. They're almost everywhere, the mouth, gut and skin. Friendly bacteria may help improve immune function, protect against hostile bacteria to prevent infection and improve digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.

Scientists are not exactly sure but surmise that the good bacteria replace the bad bacteria in the intestinal tract. Inside the gut, it fights against pathogenic ones to consume more nutrients, so the pathogenic bacteria die due to lack of nutrients. Another theory is that the good bacteria produce anti-microbial substances, organic acids, keep the intestinal tract acidic and decrease the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Moreover, the good bacteria degrade the dietary toxins and makes them less toxic to the body.

Our digestive tracts are lined with hundreds of good bacteria that help fight off infection and keep us healthy. Under normal or "balanced" conditions, friendly bacteria in the gut outnumber the unfriendly ones. This bacterial "balancing act" can be disturbed in two major ways:

1. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the harmful ones, often leading to gas, cramping or diarrhoea. Probiotics can help offset the bacterial imbalance caused by taking antibiotics. Similarly, some help ease symptoms of lactose intolerance -- a condition in which the gut lacks the enzyme needed to digest sugar in milk, and which also causes gastrointestinal symptoms.

2. "Unfriendly" micro-organisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites can also upset the balance. Probiotics can act as the beneficial bacteria that create a physical barrier against unfriendly bacteria. Probiotics are assumed to halt these unfriendly agents in the first place and/or suppress their growth and activity.

Use of antacids and other acid inhibiting drugs, laxatives, steroids and stressful conditions may also cause imbalance of friendly intestinal bacteria.

Only recently, Probiotics have gained importance for their health benefits. Not all probiotics are the same. Different strains of the bacteria have different effects. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of infectious diarrhoea, traveller's diarrhoea, antibiotic induced diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, Inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease),infection with Helicobacter pylori , a bacterium that causes most ulcers and many types of chronic stomach inflammation, tooth decay and periodontal disease, vaginal infections, urinary tract infections and eczema.

There are several strains of probiotic bacterium that are beneficial to the body and keeping the digestive track running smoothly. Some of the most common strains of probiotics include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Enterococcus faecium. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are believed to produce beneficial compounds such as B vitamins, lactic acid, and acetic acid to lower the pH of the intestine as to inhibit the growth of the harmful bacteria.They also produce natural antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria . Study has shown that other Lactobacillus species such as L. rhamnosus and L. plantarum help detoxify the gut and enhance immune function

Probiotics are available to consumers mainly in the form of dietary supplements and foods. (for example, capsules, tablets, and powders). Examples of foods containing probiotics are yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk and soy beverages. In probiotic foods and supplements, the bacteria may have been present originally or added during preparation. The largest group of good bacteria is the one found in yogurt.

Probiotics are an integral part of normal digestion and general health. The absence of beneficial bacteria in the gut may result in a variety of digestive symptoms and other medical conditions. Replenishment of the gut with viable, beneficial bacteria may have multiple positive effects. By consuming foods with probiotics, one can increase the number of healthy bacteria, boost immunity, and promote a healthy digestive system.

The writer is National Programme Officer, The Micro nutrient Initiative.


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