Probiotics are a class of “good” or “friendly” bacteria that are normal inhabitants of the intestinal tract, helping with digestion. Although the word “bacteria” is usually associated with germs and illness, there are in fact a number of strains of friendly bacteria that help the human body to function, maintain health and fight illness and disease. The friendly bacteria in the human intestinal tract help us with digestion by breaking foods down into their component parts for absorption into the body.
“Bad” or “pathogenic” bacteria on the other hand, can cause intestinal microflora imbalances and lead to illness and disease. While human beings usually start life with a relatively healthy intestinal tract, lifestyle and environmental factors can greatly reduce the number of friendly bacteria allowing pathogenic bacteria to take hold and cause problems.
Supplementing our diets with an effective probiotic re-populates the intestinal tract with friendly strains to reverse this trend, improve intestinal health and help guard against disease.
There are almost 100 different species and 100 trillion of total bacteria in the human intestinal tract. Friendly and pathogenic bacteria form a delicate and constantly changing balance as they compete to take hold and remain. Both friendly and pathogenic bacteria can and are affected by changes in the intestinal environment. Bacterial infections, stress, traveling, antibiotic treatment, alcohol, poor diet and a number of other factors can and do disturb the delicate balance in our intestinal tract, often decreasing the number of beneficial bacteria while allowing an increase in pathogenic bacteria.
Some common symptoms of this imbalance include flatulence, constipation and/or diarrhea. If this imbalance is left untreated the symptoms can become chronic, as in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and can compromise the immune system and lead to other serious illnesses.
Lactobacillus (one of many friendly species of intestinal microflora) is considered an especially beneficial bacteria in its ability to aid in the break-down of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food, and help absorption of necessary elements and nutrients such as minerals, amino acids and vitamins required for humans and other animals to survive.
Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria help to adjust this balance. Prevention of illness by a well-maintained microflora balance is accomplished by a method referred to as “competitive exclusion”. That is, the friendly bacteria take up positions known as enteric sites therefore preventing the pathogenic bacteria from establishing itself and proliferating to become the predominant bacteria