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Mar 13, 2008

Alternative Medicine: Probiotics and gut health

THE probiotic concept was born in the early 20th century by Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff. Dr Metchnikoff proposed that the health, well-being and longevity of Balkan populations were attributable to their consumption of large quantities of fermented milk containing beneficial micro-organisms.

In Europe, Japan and Australia, probiotics and related products to improve intestinal health currently represent the largest segment of the functional food market.

A healthy balance of intestinal flora is necessary for the human body to function optimally and maintain health. Beneficial flora strongly influences multiple aspects of health, from intestinal function to skin condition. Furthermore, microbial balance is the key factor that determines whether substances in the colon are converted into compounds that are beneficial or detrimental to the host.

Unfortunately, ageing as well as many of our modern lifestyle factors including poor diet, antacids, travelling and food or water contaminants can upset the delicate balance of intestinal bacteria and lead to poor health.

While many factors of everyday life can negatively impact the balance of intestinal microflora, and therefore digestion, an extremely common cause is antibiotic use without reinoculation of “friendly” organisms. Antibiotics have been one of the greatest discoveries in modern medicine, and they are now the second most commonly prescribed category of drugs in the US. However, in addition to destroying disease-causing bacteria, they also destroy the essential friendly bacteria.

Diarrhoea and stomach upset are common side-effects of the elimination beneficial GI bacteria when broad-spectrum antibiotics are used for an extended period of time. Hence, probiotics can be taken following the completion of antibiotic therapy to help re-establish beneficial intestinal flora for healthy digestive function. Lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM have long been considered safe and suitable for human consumption.

Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM exhibits a broad range of benefits in those who consume them. They have been shown to:

  • Help re-establish beneficial intestinal flora to support healthy digestive function following the use of antibiotics.
  • Support vitamin and short chain fatty acid (SCFA) synthesis and assimilation of nutrients, thus promoting intestinal and overall health.
  • Protect the intestinal mucosa from increased permeability by supporting intestinal cell growth and differentiation (improve ’leaky gut’ syndrome).
  • Detoxify the intestine, thereby supporting liver function and protecting intestinal and colon cells.
  • Provide lactase activity, which facilitates the digestion of lactose (milk sugar).
  • Support healthy immune responses.
  • Support the healthy metabolism of cholesterol.
An important attribute for certain probiotic bacteria functions is survival and growth in the intestinal tract. Once in the GI tract, probiotic bacteria have the ability to influence the populations and activities of different intestinal bacteria.

Therefore, demonstrating that a probiotic can survive GI transit and influence GI tract flora is important for establishing its characteristics. Studies have demonstrated that levels of Lactobacilli increase significantly in the faeces of human subjects consuming non-fermented milk containing NCFM. These show that NCFM strain survives the GI passage and exerts its beneficial effect on the host.

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