Benefits of Probiotics for Proper Digestion

The human gut is home to millions of living organisms commonly referred to as the intestinal bacteria. Probiotics essentially refers to a category of such organisms which are found in certain foods and could benefit the host through a mutualistic symbiotic relationship (mutually beneficial to each other). The

benefits of probiotics

are many as far as the digestive process in humans is concerned.

There are about 300 to 1000 different species of bacteria that are found in the human gut. Of these, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) or Bifidobacteria are the two types that are used as probiotics and could be externally cultured. The Nissle strain of Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) is also a popular bacteria. Certain yeasts such as Saccharomyces Boulardii are also beneficial.

It is extremely important to maintain the microbial balance in the gastrointestinal tract. A small change could lead to adverse physical reactions . It is essential for breaking down food and also helps in the assimilation of nutrients. The benefit of these symbiotic microbes in specific cases of digestive diseases like the inflammatory bowel disease, pathogen (harmful micro organism) induced diarrhea and other urogenital infections are also well documented.

Probiotics are mainly found in fermented milk products and other foods with specially added active live cultures known as probiotic fortified foods . Yogurt, buttermilk, soy yogurt etc are some examples of food containing probiotics naturally. Sachets containing the freeze dried bacteria are also easily available.

What are the benefits of probiotics?

  • Relieves gastrointestinal distress

    : Probiotics are actively used in treating various forms of gastrointestinal distress. The latter would include the different types of diarrhea like the pathogen induced diarrhea, travellers’ diarrhea, antibiotics associated diarrhea(AAD), pediatric diarrhea etc. Probiotics when administered in this condition restore the balance in the gut reducing the frequency of the stools and duration of illness. Studies have revealed that up to 50% reduction in the incidence of AAD was found on probiotic therapy.

  • Relieves Lactose Intolerance

    : Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products. Certain individuals do not possess the enzyme lactase necessary to process lactose. Hence, ingestion of any foods containing it causes visible signs of digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps etc. Since the Lactic acid bacteria converts lactose into lactic acid bacteria, certain strains of probiotics would help lactose intolerant patients to withstand dairy products well.

  • Prevent dangerous infection by enhancing immunity

    : Probiotics can help prevent the colonization of pathogens in the digestive tract by multiplying faster and competing for growth. The mucus membrane of the digestive tract is a protective mechanism of the organ. It acts as a barrier to pathogens and protects it from the corrosive stomach acids. Probiotics stimulate the cells in the lymph nodes associated with this membranous lining and help to produce antibodies to fight the pathogens. They increase the production of IgA antibodies and also increases the number of T lymphocytes which strengthens the immune system and helps it to fight away the infections. The Lactic acid bacteria can also help fight the deadly Helicobacter Pylori which is associated with peptic ulcer disease.

  • Helps reduce intestinal inflammation

    : Lactic acid bacteria can help to control the inflammatory responses of the immune system. Here too, the role of T lymphocytes is emphasized. They help the immune system respond favorably to pro inflammatory responses caused by allergens. They are very effective in managing and preventing inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Prevents food allergy

    : Probiotics can help prevent allergy by strengthening the immune system. The immune system is better geared in identifying the real pathogens and fighting them instead of mistakingly identifying the harmless proteins in food as allergens.

What are the side effects of probiotics?

  • Studies have shown that when probiotics are administered in individuals who are critically ill and have compromised immune systems, probiotics induced lactobacillus septicaemia (pathogens spreading to the different organs of the body) can prove fatal.
  • In acute gastrointestinal problems, like pancreatitis and diarrhea much of the benefits of probiotics are hardly realized. Rather administering them may aggravate the disease.
  • Probiotics taken by mouth are destroyed by the acids in the stomach before their benefits could be realized. A lot of research is going on finding techniques to encapsulate them before ingestion.
  • There is no as such evidence that probiotics can substitute existing dead and destroyed gut bacteria. Infact, their benefits are greatly reduced as soon as one stops taking the supplements.

There is a lot of debate among researchers as to which strains of the bacteria are really beneficial.

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