Probiotics are advantageous bacteria present in the intestinal tract of healthy mammals and from the time penicillin - the first antibiotic was discovered, they have proved to be our most important mechanism to fight different ailments. However, it is regrettable that the misuse or excessive use of antibiotics has actually resulted in the increase in the number of bacteria that are resistant to drugs. As a result, there are a number of contagions that may prove to be deadly. Moreover, it has been established that the use of antibiotics has been rendered ineffective to combat contagions like hepatitis and HIV infections.

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It may be mentioned here that probiotics actually denote 'for life' and this is a common terminology used for microbes called 'friendly bacteria' that helps to strengthen the body's power to resist or combat diseases. Although it may seem incredible, the human body hosts innumerable such 'friendly bacteria' whose numbers exceed that of the cells that compose the body. On the other hand, present in the intestinal tract, such bacteria not only aids the digestive process, but also work together with our immune system with a view to keep us in the best of health. These 'friendly bacteria' or probiotics perform several tasks and some of their important functions include producing a number of B vitamins, aiding in lowering cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, help in regularizing the intensity of hormones secreted by the different organs of the body as well as save us from any harm due to contaminants. In addition, probiotics also have a significant role in the functioning of our immune system. With advancing age, people generally experience a decline in the number of such 'friendly bacteria' and, as a result, become more susceptible to different ailments or maladies. Hence, it is very important to reinstate the 'friendly bacteria' or probiotics to the levels in the youths by ingesting supplements that contain probiotics.

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Among all the probiotics, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium are said to be the most useful. Shielding us from the outgrowth as well as contagion caused by fungi and yeasts that may result in the formation of noxious and deathly substance is among the important functions of such 'friendly bacteria'. If the overgrowth of fungus and yeasts are not controlled, it is likely that they will be assimilated into the circulatory system and adds to the development of additional diseases. Thus far, the most significant study concerning probiotics has been their responsibility in endorsing the immune system. Especially, Bifidobacteria slow down impacts on disease-bearing microbes like Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella. Moreover, Bifidobacteria are also effective in suppressing tumors as well as combating other toxins that are deadly.

Now the moot question is what is the method or manner to enhance the intensity of probiotics in our body. The answer to this question is simple - consume the right kind of foods and it will help in increasing the levels of the 'friendly bacteria' in our system. Basically, a diet rich in fiber content is ideal, as these bacteria present in the intestinal tract devour fiber contained in our diet and digest it into natural acids that slow down the development of harmful bacteria. In fact, yogurts containing no fat or those that have low concentration of fat and produced with subsisting and vigorous cultures are also an additional resistant. This food is a substantial resource of probiotics.

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Precisely speaking, humans have a complex association with bacteria. In fact, bacteria are present all over our body - the skin, intestinal tract, urinal tract and all other possible places. It is interesting to note that while the presence of bacteria in excess is likely to make us extremely sick, having a scarcity of bacteria in the system may also make use all the more susceptible to various diseases. As discussed earlier, probiotics may be present naturally in our intestinal tract or may be added to foods we consume to provide definite advantages to our health.

It is interesting to note that most stores selling supplements containing probiotics claim that consuming such 'friendly bacteria' have numerous benefits for our health, in effect, intake of such supplements enclosing them only have a few advantages. At least, this is what has been established through clinical trials with probiotics. Actually, the majority of the advantages of taking probiotics are related to people who are being administered antibiotics for some reason or the other. Precisely speaking, antibiotics are excellent medications for eliminating germs that are responsible for our ailments. However, the truth is that they are unable to differentiate between the 'harmful' microbes and 'beneficial' microbes. On the other hand, probiotics, which are actually 'friendly bacteria', are able to do this task with efficiency.

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Consequently, excessive use of antibiotics may at times upset the subtle equilibrium of 'beneficial' bacteria in our body. In fact, the use of antibiotics has been especially denoted to cause yeast contagion, jock itch (a fungal infection of the skin in the groin area, mostly in males), infection of the urinary tract and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Advocators of using probiotics assert that taking these 'friendly bacteria' during the course of treatment with antibiotics may possibly help in preserving a strong equilibrium in the different areas of our body by means of restoring the 'beneficial' bacteria.

Very often people consider yogurt to be a natural probiotic food. In fact, it has been found that consumption of yogurt has helped in preventing any loss of the healthy or 'beneficial' bacteria in the intestinal tract and the vaginal region. It may be mentioned here that yogurt is actually a probiotic only when it encloses Lactobacillus or additional 'good' bacteria. Normally, yogurt available in the market will have a label that will read 'contains live cultures'. Hence, several physicians suggest that patients undergoing treatment with antibiotics should also take yogurt with a view to avoid any contagion by yeasts or prolonged irritable bowel syndrome. Especially, men are encouraged to consume yogurt along with probiotics, as it has been found that bacteria too can cause yeast infections in the groin, such as jock itch.

In fact, kefir - a beverage prepared with cultures and seasoned with fruits, is a popular and useful probiotic. However, frozen yogurt can never be considered to be a probiotic. Although it may taste extremely delicious, consuming a scoop of frozen vanilla yogurt will not serve as a probiotic or aid in any manner in preventing or curing infections caused by yeasts. If you are looking for probiotics, you will find them in kefir, plain yogurt, powdered drink blends, cottage cheese as well as preserved vegetables. Nevertheless, before you buy any of these products, ensure that you go through the product label and find that they contain probiotics.

Although it is not safe to assimilate all types of bacteria, the fact remains that when we take probiotics, we are simply restoring more bacteria to our system. Several bacteria, such as E. coli, Staph. and Strep, present in the intestine may prove to be extremely damaging. In fact, good hygienic habits are essential when one is using the restroom as this protects us from being infected by deadly bacteria, viruses, fungus and other pathogens. Group B Strep. is a very harmful bacterium and traveling through the umbilical cord or birth canal it even has the aptitude to infect newborns when they are exposed to the bacterium. This bacterium is generally found on the skin cells, the vagina as well as the anus. In addition, presence of any other ordinary bacteria on the skin may also make an individual susceptible to infections owing to the presence of cuts, bruises or burns on the skin.

However, the good thing is that majority of the preparations available in the market only contain beneficial probiotics and they are very safe for use. However, some of the probiotic manufacturers make tall claims regarding the benefits of these healthy and useful bacteria, but most of them have neither been tested, nor proved during clinical trials. The most common such unverified claims regarding the use of probiotics include their antioxidant or anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties, that they help in inhibiting the aging process, reinstate energy levels, alleviate headaches and also control the moods of individuals who have bipolar disorder or depression.

Usefulness of probiotics for health

Normally, the mention of the term 'bacteria' conjures the image of disease-causing microbes in most people. Hence, in such circumstances it is very natural that when we talk about adding millions of bacteria into the system, it will make such people shy away from probiotics. Nevertheless, more and more researches undertaken on the subject have been recommending that taking supplements containing probiotics not only help in healing numerous diseases, but also aid in avoiding several other ailments. In fact, probiotics are living bacteria that are useful to our body in a number of ways. While people living in the northern regions of Europe have been familiar with the benefits associated with "taking probiotic supplements" since ages, beverages containing probiotic supplements are so popular in Japan that their sales have touched a record high.

Presently, with increasing awareness regarding the benefits of taking probiotic supplements, they have become popular even in the United States, where the market for such products is increasing rapidly. Many experts in digestive diseases are now prescribing probiotic supplements to cure certain ailments, such as irritable bowel syndrome, which are not curable using the traditional or regular medications. Several studies conducted since the middle of the 1990s have proved that taking probiotic supplements may help in healing or preventing urinary tract infections in women, gastrointestinal disorder as well as postpone the commencement of allergies among children.

While taking bacteria to cure as well as prevent diseases may appear to be weird to most, in fact, the truth is something different. You would be surprised to learn that at any given time there are more than a hundred trillion bacteria belonging to more than 500 species are present in your bowels. These 'friendly' or beneficial bacteria do not cause any harm or make us fall ill. On the contrary, they help in the consumption as well as assimilation of nourishments, slow down the development of dangerous bacteria and also assist in the regular functioning of our immune system. The greatest benefit of taking probiotics or treatment with 'friendly' bacteria includes healing diarrhea. During clinical trials, it has been found that lactobacillus bacteria are able to curtail the period of diarrhea in infants and children. However, they have no positive influence in this regard as far as the adults are concerned. Although the number of researches on the subject and information regarding the benefits of taking probiotics are inadequate, the limited data that is available shows that taking probiotic supplements may help in lessening the occurrence of diarrhea caused due to antibiotic use by approximately 60 per cent.

In addition to the above mentioned conditions, it has been found that taking probiotic supplements is also beneficial for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease. While the finding of clinical trials conducted on this issue are often contradictory, a number of studies advocate that taking probiotics may be helpful in reducing ulcerative colitis (chronic ulceration in the large intestine) and even put off the recurrence of Crohn's disease and pouchitis - a problem in surgical creation of an artificial excretory opening from the colon. While it is true that many people enduring the above mentioned disorders have reported to benefit from probiotic therapy, the fact remains that there is need for more studies on the subject to determine the precise strains of bacteria that are beneficial for our body.

Taking probiotic supplements is also beneficial for sustaining the health of the urinary tract. Similar to the gastrointestinal tract, the vagina of women too is a structure that is composed very sensitively. Presence of Lactobacilli strains creates an environment that is extremely acidic for any other detrimental bacteria to survive there. However, the equilibrium of the vagina may be disturbed owing to several aspects, such as use of spermicide, using antibiotics, and some times even the use of contraceptives. In such situations, taking probiotic supplements help in restoring the number of 'friendly' or helpful bacteria, thereby re-establishing the balance in the vaginal system. This, in turn, helps in resisting as well as fighting conditions like yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis and urinary contagions. Yet again, it needs to be mentioned that further research is required in this field in order to enable the physicians securely advise treatment with probiotics rather than with the regular or traditional medications.

Generally, probiotics are believed to be harmless since they exist naturally in large numbers in the digestive tract. Nevertheless, individuals having a weak immune system may face risks from probiotics. Hence, it is essential for everyone to precisely learn about the ingredients present in the supplements they are taking and also to consult their physician regarding the advantages and hazards associated with the supplements. In fact, in the United States, probiotics are marketed as dietary supplements and are not controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In such situations, the onus is on the manufacturers to ensure that the probiotics produced by them are safe for use and they strictly maintain the standards mentioned on the label of the products. Since all strains of bacteria are not useful, it is essential that you consult a probiotic expert as well as your physician before you start taking any of the probiotic supplements available in the market. This will not only ensure that you are taking the correct product, but also confirm whether your require taking a particular product or not.

Several researches have discovered that probiotics have the ability to enhance bioavailability of nutrients (the extent to which a nutrient can be used by the body) for substances like B vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and other nutrition.

Pediatric researches undertaken with specific bacterial strains, like Lactobacillus GG present in Culturelle capsule may considerably help in lessening the extent of severe diarrhea as well as getting rid of rotavirus (a double-stranded RNA virus of the genus Rotavirus that is the main cause of diarrhea in infants). Parents of babies consuming formula enclosing probiotics also confirmed that the use of the beneficial bacteria have helped in reducing diaper rash by approximately 25 per cent.

It may be noted that use of probiotics and lively bacteria culture possibly will perk up lactose intolerance. In fact, the bacterial strain present in yogurt has the ability to produce lactase enzymes. Hence, generally, individuals having lactose intolerance and children enduring intestinal contagions are able to put up with yogurt when it is taken in probiotics or any lively culture.

A number of researches have demonstrated that when the transit period of probiotics through the intestine is controlled, these 'friendly' bacteria are effective in alleviating constipation among aged people. Additional researches on the subject have demonstrated that probiotics, particularly acidophilus, encourage the development of healthy or vigorous bacteria in the colon and thereby, lessen the transformation of bile into substances that may cause cancer (carcinogens). In addition, a number of other researches with probiotics have discovered that these 'friendly' bacteria possibly will boost the immune system by means of controlling antibodies and lymphocytes (a form of white blood cell with a large, spherical nucleus enclosed by a slender layer of non-granular cytoplasm).


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