Course:FNH200/Lessons/Lesson 13/Page 13.2

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13.2 What are Probiotics?

The term probiotics refers to health-promoting microorganisms that will improve the intestinal microflora balance when deliberately ingested. Probiotics may be consumed in the form of natural health product or functional food products.

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  • Examples of probiotics are bacteria from the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. See the two products below: the product on the left has Lactobacilluscasei, whereas the products on the right have L.caseidefensins and Lactobacillus johnsonii.
  • See the links below for examples of probiotic-containing products

These lactic acid bacteria are non-pathogenic, gram-positive bacteria that have lactic acid as a primary metabolic end-product and are traditionally used in the production of yogurt. Lactobacillus and various Bifidobacterium sp. are also dominant organisms in the human small and large intestines, respectively. In probiotic yogurts, some of the desirable bacteria are added in the form of concentrated cultures after completion of the fermentation process.

As you will remember from Lesson 9, fermented food products provide many nutritional advantages such as ease of digestibility and improved availability of some nutrients. Scientific studies have suggested that by stimulating the growth of bifidobacteria and some other probiotics gastrointestinal disorders, intestinal discomfort, and flatulence can be reduced. There are even suggestions that other serious health problems, such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and even the development of colon cancer may be prevented by consuming sufficient quantity of foods containing viable (live) probiotics. It is believed that the beneficial properties of probiotics against colon cancer are associated with the metabolic conversion, degradation and/or absorption of carcinogenic compounds as well as stimulation of the immune system.

However, these probiotic bacteria (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus.) must be present in numbers high enough to have a physiological effect on the consumer. These numbers should be above 106 (1 million) viable organisms per ml and at least 100 ml of the product should be consumed twice per week. Survival of the probiotic cultures during distribution, retailing and in the consumer's home is required to maintain efficacy of those food products (probiotic yogurts) or natural health products (capsules of probiotic bacteria).