Why Should You Care About “Probiotics”
Hint: They’re Not Just Another Health Craze
Have you been seeing the word “probiotic” plastered all over certain healthy foods and been wondering what the hype is about?
While not all products are equal, don’t dismiss the benefits of probiotics because good gut bacteria are absolutely essential for us to be alive.
That is, microflora are critical for us to have in our bodies just like we need water and air.
Many people see probiotics as a current trend in natural health food supplements. What they may not realize is the full extent of probiotics’ symbiotic relationship with human consumption and gut health, as well as current and future implications of scientific and medical discoveries currently being made.
This research article will provide a historical overview our evolution with probiotics (and our understanding thereof), their current applications and possible future implicated uses. For more on how our perception of good bacteria has grown, in terms of in-lab research, see A History of Probiotics Research in the Lab.
Compared to Probiotics, we humans are the “latest trend”
The idea that probiotics is a new trend in alternative medicine is simply a fabrication of modern media. The truth is that probiotics have been digested by humans and animals for millions of years.
What is a new trend is the way we go about consuming probiotics in pills and powders. This is different from the more traditional way of ingesting probiotics in the form of fermented foods and liquids. Read more about the differences here.
The simple fact is that probiotics represent different microorganisms that promote and aid in the digestive system and have done so for millennia.
What is currently referred to as probiotics is the scientific categorization, analyzation and labelling of bacteria that are ingested and promote benefits for their host. This is essentially the World Health Organization’s current definition for probiotics.
Our Evolution with Fermented Probiotics
So how did we as a species evolve to consume probiotics? By eating foods that were fermented by naturally occurring bacteria, such as those found in the stomachs of sheep, when we used the stomachs as bags to carry milk.
The human history of probiotics dates to humanity’s formation with evidence of fermented milk being consumed from some of the world’s earliest civilizations such as the Sumerians, the Chinese and the Indus River Valley peoples. Fermented milk represents a way for dairy products to be preserved and consumed over a longer period of time and was its originally intended purpose. However the health benefits from bacteria and other organisms within these forms of milk were thought to promote long life.
Even the in the course of recorded human history starting with Pliny the Elder, from the Roman Empire, fermented milk was prescribed for intestinal problems.
The effects of bacteria in fermented milk are also mentioned in the Bible and the books of Hinduism.
Already so long ago, we understood that fermentation was the key.
Current and Future Trends
The coining of the term “probiotic” was done so in 1953 by Kolath which suggested that probiotics could restore health of the malnourished by consuming organic and inorganic supplements.
There have been at least 14 major changes in the definition of the term probiotics since 1953 with the current definition, provided by the World Health Organization in 2001, as the most dominant and globally accepted which states probiotics are live organisms that confer a health benefit on the host when administered in sufficient quantity. However, the European Food Safety Authority still disputes this definition.
The Amount of Research Knowledge Increases Daily
Probiotic scientific study and advances are just now entering a phase of continued discovery as research studies of probiotics from the 1950’s until the late 1990’s were sporadic at best. However in the 1990’s a tipping point can be seen in the scientific research, in 1997 only 30 published articles on probiotics are found but in 1998 a tripling to 106 are found.
The growth of research continues today with over 1309 articles published in 2013 and projections of over 1500 in 2014 prove that probiotics is an area of study that has provided interesting and potentially life altering results.
Current advances in our knowledge include proven effectiveness in digestive health, proven effectiveness in treating a number of intestinal illnesses, improvements in dental hygiene, a connection between probiotics, gut health and weight loss and even a possible connection between preventing carcinogenic polyps from forming in the intestinal tract.
Future uses and understanding of probiotics not only on gut health but on immune health and the use of psychobiotics (i.e. probiotics that promote mental health) could prove the next leap in holistic preventive medicine which improves our health both physically and mentally.
Another trend is the divergence of probiotics products in the market; as in those that are fermented foods and drinks vs. those that are nutraceutical pills and powders.
The latter may seem, to the ill-informed, to be the better choice as the consumer is then provided pure strains in isolation but consider how bacteria have evolved over the last billions of years – working together to ferment foods and liquids – and you may start to understand how pill or powder probiotic supplements may not be your best choice.
What is also interesting is that with the presence of thousands of microbial strains in everyone’s body, it seems there is already a little Vita Biosa in all of us. And increasing its effectiveness can be easily done with daily doses of liquid fermented probiotics.