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We live in a dynamic era of constant change, most of the time for the better and sometimes for the worse. Pollution and massive usage of different chemicals in food production makes us subtle to dangerous infections and diseases. Therefore the chaotic use of antibiotics, which kill both harmful and good bacteria in our organism, has become a tendency.
Trapped in the daily routine, we turn to junk food- exclusively promoted by the market processed food-like substances, something with no nutrition value, but with the only purpose to keep us full. However, these "foods" fill our body with countless non-beneficial substances that deplete the natural balance of bacteria in the gut, which in turn leads to problems with metabolism and hence a decrease in immunity. This relativity is due to the fact that approximately 70-80% of the immune cells of the body are located in the gut microflora and it is of prime importance to maintain a good balance between useful and dangerous microorganisms in the digestive system.
‘Gut flora’ (gut microbiota, or gastrointestinal microbiota) is the complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals, including insects.Their number reaches ’- Wikipedia
These microorganisms’ types of beneficial bacteria, yeast and fungi, being responsible for the proper function of the micro-intestinal are densely spread in a healthy gut flora. Their role is to keep the balance between the “good” and the “bad” bacteria.
“Probiotic bacteria have effects on the gut-brain signaling through affecting the composition of the gut microbiota. For example they can produce growth substances for other bacteria, produce bacteriocins, improve gut bacteria function, reduce inflammation and stimulate innate immune responses”. – Beneficial Microbes in Fermented and Functional Foods
The babies’ gut flora is rich in microorganisms of the types Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Bifidobacterium and Enterobacterium, while the adults’ ones are of the types Bacteroides, Eubacterium, Clostridium and Ruminococcus.
Digestive tract is free of bacteria before birth. Then the newborn receives its first portion of microbial populations from its mother. The colonization of beneficial microorganisms happens gradually. They penetrate orally, reach the intestines and stick to their walls. During the first year, the composition of these microbial colonies is less diverse but it enriches with time.
Nowadays multiple researches have proved the connection between intestinal flora and general health of individuals. More than 2000 years ago, Hippocrates said “All diseases begin in the gut”. His words are confirmed by many since more and more people have been paying attention to their intestinal flora as a key for improving their health. A balanced intestinal flora promotes good digestion, stimulates proper metabolism, protects us from infections and acts as a natural barrier against harmful bacteria. On the other hand, any discrepancies in the function of the gastro-intestinal tract can lead to bacterial imbalance and as a result a large specter of illnesses can evolve, not only in the digestive system, but also diabetes, obesity, autism, cardio-vascular, autoimmune, allergic and even malignant diseases.
As strange as it may seem, gut can be defined as the main protecting organ. Eighty percent of the immune cells in our body are contained in the intestines. Therefore the complex interactions between these cells determine the state of our immune system. In other words, a balanced gut flora stimulates the immune system in a way that it can respond to any harmful interference of the environment.
Unfortunately, modern life contributes directly for the unhealthy state of gut flora:
It is well-known that antibiotics break the balance in gut flora. Their consumption causes deep and fast loss of microbial diversity and change in the content of good bacteria. Nevertheless diversity can’t be restored by itself and measures have to be taken to promote a normal gastro-intestinal function. Keeping gut flora in a healthy state is a priority of modern medicine in 21st. century. One of its greatest discoveries is that immune system can be modified through intestinal bacteria. Good bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract is known as probiotics.
In the beginning of the past century, the Russian Nobel laureate Èlia Metchnikoff was the first who introduces the concept of probiotic therapy and modification of gut flora through therapeutic use of beneficial microorganisms namely probiotics.
So far, we have mentioned microorganisms and bacteria, but we haven’t clarified that the beneficial bacteria living on our organism are actually the probiotics. Normally we tend to associate “bacteria” with disease, but probiotics is something different. The literary meaning of the word “probiotic” is “for life”.
Probiotics behave like old friends – we may not see them, but they are present and could be at our service, protecting us every time when we need. They are the natural analogue of antibiotics but without unwanted effects. The difference between them is that we shouldn’t take probiotics only when needed. Their regular use is the key for good health and for the ability of our organism to respond adequately to intrusion.
The most popular strains of probiotics are of the types Lactobacillus Caseii, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Helveticus etc. The Lactobacillus produce over 50 % of lactic acid, which combined with other biologically active substances, has strong detoxification effect and plays important role for stabilizing the organism.
Lactobacillus Bulgaricus found in yogurt is one of its kind lactic acid bacteria of plant origin, named after the population and geographic region where it was discovered. The bacteria lives freely in Bulgaria’s nature, but surprisingly outside its territory, it mutates and stops regenerating. Lactobacillus Bulgaricus enters our organism through consumption of lactic acid products but its living and development happens in symbiosis with another plant probiotic - Streptococcus Thermophilus. The symbiosis is vital for immune stimulation, anti-cancer, anti-sclerotic and other beneficial effects. Furthermore Lactobacillus Bulgaricus participates in lactic products’ digestion and facilitates decomposition and implementation of protein.
“In a resazurin test, the decrease of absorbance of yogurt in comparison with that of milk suggested that the reducing activity of alcohol dehydrogenase increased in yogurt by fermentation, decreasing the concentration of aldehydes. Alcohol dehydrogenase activity has been reported for Streptococcus Thermophilus..”- Process- Induced Chemical Changes in Food- Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology – Vol. 434
Lactibacillus bacteria are found in the large intestine, but what prevails there are the Bifidobacterium (Bifidobacterium bifidum), especially in the caecum. The most widespread are of the types Bifidobacterium adolescentis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium longum etc. They produce large quantity of acetic acid and participate in the sugar fermentation process. Moreover these bacteria are anaerobes and ultra sensitive, which makes them easily die in acetic environment or in the presence of oxygen. Lactibacillus bacteria’s number decreases and even turns to zero with age.
The organic compounds, which appear by combining Lactibacillus and Bifidobacterium increase acidity in the intestines and thus prevent the development of harmful bacteria.
Probiotics are unstable, most of them highly sensitive and even having populated the organism, they don’t last forever. Unfavourable factors as antibiotics consumption, stress, diets etc. have a strong influence on probiotic population in gut flora. Nevertheless even without them, probiotics decrease in time or are totally ‘washed’ away and the need of constant and stable probiotic consumption occurs.
There are plenty of probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, curd, but as we mentioned above- modern life brings modern food. Modern food content is rather far from natural and so is the content of probiotics in them. Fortunately we have them in forms of pills, powders, probiotic vitamins, probiotic capsules but probiotic supplements work best over time. Immediate results can’t be observed in that case except in case of temporary stomach discrepancies.
“Taking probiotic supplements on an empty stomach helps to ensure that they find their way tpast the digestive juices in the stomach, arriving intact in the small or large intestines.”
“Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you are eating probiotic rich foods or taking probiotic supplements because like you, the beneficial bacteria need water to function. The water rehydrates the bacteria, allowing them to become active so they can perform their many health – building functions. Once rehydrated, they work their magic in your intestines to help maintain or restore great health”- The Probiotic Promise- Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out.
Another source of probiotic bacteria can be yogurt, prepared with the help of proved starter cultures even by ourselves at home. What is important to know in that case is that probiotic bacteria need long fermentation times because during a short fermentation time, their growth has hardly started.
“….the interactions between probiotic strains and traditional starter cultures are another aspect that must be considered to achieve a high viable count at the end of the shelf-life of the product.”- Probiotic Dairy Products- A.Y Tamime
It is important to know - probiotics are not a trend! In our time, they are necessary playing the "good friends" of the body, which is daily attacked by countless seemingly harmless but actually harmful bacteria and microorganisms.