Probiotics: Living Microbes in Foods

Probiotics are living microbes consumed in food or taken as food supplement. These friendly microbes improve intestinal health by prevention and treatment of disease conditions. The best known probiotics for human being are lactic acid bacteria, scientifically known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Other bacteria used as probiotics include Escherichia coli and Streptococcus. Yeast is also a good probiotic. Bacteria and microbe are not identical terms. All bacteria are microbes but all microbes are not bacteria. For example yeast is a fungus while Lactobacillus is a bacterium, but both these are microbes. A microbe is tiny living organism seen by a microscope only.

living organism

Probiotic preparations may be mixed bacterial culture containing more than one type of bacteria. Probiotics are effective in treating bacterial and viral diarrhea including the HIV induced diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, sucrase deficiency and lactose intolerance (inability to digest milk) besides many other intestinal disorders.

Probiotics are also known to fight intestinal cancers and boost immunity. Probiotics are not to be confused with prebiotics, the indigestible food materials that help ‘good bacteria’, to grow.

It is advised to take foods containing these friendly microbes rather than supplements in the form of tablets or capsules.

Precautions prior to taking probiotics:

• As indicated, probiotics are living microbes and that is a necessity for the microbe to act as probiotic. A dead bacteria containing material would not be useful as probiotic. The tablets and capsules are processed such that many times the number of living bacteria is too low to make these effective.

fruit and vegetable juices

• The food material provides growing and active microbes/ bacteria which become effective soon.

• Probiotics as supplements may trigger allergic reactions.

• Since it is the living microbe that makes probiotics effective, the probiotics containing food cannot be heated or cooked lest the microbes are killed. For example, cheese is probiotics food but baked cheese or a grilled sandwich is not.

Foods that contain probiotics: in this category the best known to us is Yogurt. Other foods are miso, cheese, probiotics supplemented fruit and vegetable juices, tempeh and many traditional, local foods the world over.