Eating fast and processed foods that are usually sugary and fatty is harmful to the beneficial bacteria present normally in human intestine or gut. Similarly antibiotics taken for infectious diseases not only kill disease causing bacteria but also kill the beneficial or good bacteria present in the digestive tract. The beneficial bacteria in our body are also destroyed by pollutants and chemicals present in the environment and poor and unhealthy dietary patterns of people. All these factors can play havoc on the health of intestinal microflora and produce derangements in the functioning of the digestive system and the immune system and decrease body’s natural resistance to fight infectious organisms. By replenishing the beneficial bacteria in the gut by eating probiotics, the body’s ability to correct these derangements is supported.
Probiotics improve digestive health by improving digestion of foods and assimilation of nutrients. They do so by accelerating the metabolism and elimination of bile acids and also by increasing the production of digestive enzymes. Moreover, the bacteria present in the intestinal flora help in the metabolism of lipids and in the digestion of cholesterol. Another important function of these bacteria is to produce Vitamin K-an important factor that helps in blood coagulation. Probiotics also help in regulating the body’s immune system. The origin of 70% of the body’s immune response is in the intestines. A large number of lymphocytes of the immune system, B cells and T cells, are present beneath the mucus membrane lining of the intestines. Consuming probiotics or beneficial bacteria is associated with an increase of not only the immunity of intestinal cell mucosa but also of the whole body. This happens as the phagocytic activity is stimulated and the production of lymphocytes and antibodies is increased.
Probiotics may even provide protection against common infections of the respiratory tract.
Probiotics are available in various forms including foods such as yogurt, cheeses, powders, capsules and liquids. Each form contains numerous types of probiotics and each one is believed to have its own beneficial effects on the body. Let us discuss some of the benefits or functions of probiotic organisms.
Probiotics are beneficial in infectious diarrhea
Probiotics have been given A grade by an expert panel at Yale University in the treatment of infectious diarrhea occurring in children. It is suggested that giving probiotics to a child suffering from infectious diarrhea early on during the course of disease can shorten the duration of the illness by up to 24-30 hours. Though the amount of time may not look significant but for a child who is suffering from severe diarrhea, even a single hour is significant. The probiotic organisms that are beneficial in infectious diarrhea include Lactobacillus GG, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Lactobacillus reuteri.
However, according to preliminary evidences, probiotics are not very effective in preventing the occurrence of infectious diarrhea.
Probiotics help in the prevention of diarrhea associated with the use of antibiotics
It is found that at least 33 percent of children taking oral antibiotics develop diarrhea after their use. Diarrhea also occurs in many adults after the use of antibiotics. The reason for the occurrence of diarrhea after taking antibiotics is that apart from destroying the disease causing bacteria they also disrupt and destroy the populations of beneficial or good bacteria present in the gut. It has been demonstrated in several investigations that antibiotic-associated diarrhea can be prevented by taking probiotics before taking a course of antibiotics. The probiotic organisms that are helpful in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea includes Saccharomyces, boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the combination of Lactobacillus casei and Streptococcus thermophilus.
Probiotics help in fighting or preventing the risk of pouchitis
Pouchitis refers to the inflammation of the pouch that is created after removing the colon during bowel surgery done for severe ulcerative colitis. It has been shown in studies that pouchitis can be prevented by taking probiotics. However, once the inflammation of the pouch occurs, probiotics are not that effective in treating it.
Probiotics help in the prevention of eczema
Atopic eczema is characterized by an allergic reaction that manifests on the skin. It commonly occurs in children and infants. According to the review panel of Yale University, probiotics are effective both in preventing and treating atopic eczema in infants and children that occurs due to allergy to cow’s milk. The probiotic organisms that are helpful in preventing atopic eczema include Lactobacillus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis.
Probiotics are helpful in relieving symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is associated with the symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloating. According to some preliminary findings, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may be relieved by using probiotics. A study conducted in the year 2010 demonstrated that VSL#3, a combination of eight different strains of bacteria reduced symptoms of IBS in children and teenagers.
The probiotic organisms that are useful in irritable bowel syndrome include VSL#3 and Bifidobacterium infantis.
Probiotics are useful in treating Ulcerative colitis
According to some studies there is evidence that probiotics helped in the treatment of Ulcerative colitis and improved its flare-ups. The probiotic organisms that are especially useful include Bifidobacterium longum and VSL#3.
Probiotics are helpful in fighting off common infections occurring during childhood
Evidence is provided by Yale University that probiotics help fight off common infections that occur during childhood by improving immune function. Some of these infections include common colds, infectious diarrhea and ear infections.
A study conducted by the Georgetown University and published in the year 2010 demonstrated that infections were 19% less likely to occur in children who drank a yogurt drink with probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus casei than those who did not consume the drink.
The probiotic organisms that are helpful include Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus LGG, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Lactobacillus johnsonii.
Photo Credit ralphbijker @ Creative Commons – http://www.flickr.com/photos/17258892@N05/