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"Living Nutrients of Fermentation Found in Probiotics"
By Robert L. Lawrence, M.Ed., D.C., D.A.C.B.N
Taken from "The Doctors' Prescription for Healthy Living" Volume 8, Number 10
Humanity has used natural biological processes to its advantage since recorded history. Fermentation is one of those natural processes-using bacteria, yeasts, and molds to produce fermented foods. Yeasts produce carbon dioxide and alcohol, and certain bacteria and molds ferment milk, producing carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Lactic acid bacteria, or lactobacilli, produce acids which inhibit the growth of many other organisms-including harmful ones.
The food of our ancestors (fermented foods, etc.) contained several thousand times more bacteria, mainly the good probiotic bacteria, than our food does today. Our modernized eating has dramatically reduced or excluded foods produced by natural fermentation. After the early identification of microbes, bacteria were mistakenly regarded mainly as sources of disease, and were unwanted in commercially manufactured food. Hence, the food industry promoted alternative methods to food preservation which extended shelf life but excluded live probiotic bacteria. This lack of good bacteria in our food, combined with our focus on antibacterial hygienic measures, precludes the possibility for maintaining satisfactory protective gut flora-good bacteria-necessary for optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrition for gastrointestinal and overall health.
Scientific evidence supports that our genes, adapted millions of years ago, do not tolerate the dramatic dietary and lifestyle changes that have occurred in our "modern" society-particularly over the last 100 years. Stress, reduced physical activity, our consumption of "dead" processed foods, and our exposure to chemicals (including pharmaceuticals) can all negatively impact health.
The condition and function of the gastrointestinal tract are essential to overall well-being, as it constitutes the second largest body surface area-comparable to the size of a tennis court! During an average life, 60 tons of food will pass through the body by the nutrition in the food (or lack thereof). The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract serves two main purposes: it acts as a barrier to the external environment and it acts as the main portal of entry for nutrients. (Some of the nutrients which enter are those which preserve the integrity of the GI tract itself-including the GI mucosa and epithelial cells, which act as the primary interface between ingested nutrients and the blood and lymph streams.)
Over a hundred years ago, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Elie Metchnikoff at the Pasteur Institute proposed that the prolonged life span of Bulgarian peasants was the result of their consumption of fermented milk products. The use of probiotics in the modern era evolved from Methchnikoff's theory. Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms in fermented foods that promote good health by means of an improved balance in intestinal microflora. Microorganisms primarily used in probiotics include various species of lactobacilli or bifidobacteria used individually or in combination with one another.
An extensive backdrop of fermentation and fermented foods was given in last month's article, "Fermentation and Its Health Benefits." A brief, more recent historical overview on the benefits and use of lactobacilli and probiotics follows:
Approximately 100 years ago, based on the research of Elie Metchnikoff, lactobacilli were thought to be useful in displacing and replacing harmful microorganisms on mucosal surfaces (including the intestines.)
Approximately 30 years ago, it was suggested "that probiotics constitute the other half of the antibiotic story" and probiotics were defined as "organisms and substances that contribute to a better intestinal microbial balance."
Later, probiotics was defined as " a live microbial food supplement that beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance."
The definition was then broadened to include "microorganisms that benefit humans or animals b improving the properties of the indigenous microflora."
A more recent definition included and emphasized "living microorganisms, which, upon ingestion in certain numbers, exert health benefits beyond the inherent basic nutrition."
Currently, probiotics is broadly defined as "the preparation of a product containing viable, defined microorganisms in sufficient numbers that alter the microflora by implantation or colonization in a compartment of the host and exert beneficial health effects in the host."
Foods considered probiotics are categorized as functional foods, or foods claimed to have a positive effect on health. In short, probiotics or lactobacilli-laden fermented foods represent the quintessential functional foods and have been used for centuries for their health-promoting effects. Since probiotics do not permanently colonize the intestine, they must be taken consistently in sufficient quantities (preferably in the form of fermented foods) to maintain or improve the amounts of good bacteria in the intestines.
A noted health-promoting effect of probiotics is their enhancement of mucosal immune defenses. Studies have indicated that when intestinal colonization of good bacteria is absent, then the mucosal immune system is underdeveloped, making the host more susceptible to pathologic bacterial infections the bad bacteria. Additionally, probiotics have offered a protective effect against pathologic microbial colonization that translocation; they can, in essence, suppress the bad bacteria from growing and taking over the intestinal area.
Probiotics have also been studied for their effects on gastrointestinal disorders-primarily in pediatric patients, but more recently in adult trials Probiotics, especially a high dosage of freeze-dried lactic acid bacteria, have also shown signs of being "a novel approach for the prevention of urinary stone formation."