What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400-500 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is best known. Yeast can also be a probiotic substance. In pharmaceutical world, probiotics are available as dietary supplements.
Often the word 'bacteria' is associated with bad bacteria that make people sick. But actually our body consists of myriads of beneficial bacteria that are responsible to keep us well (read here and watch here).
Many people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems and may also lead to other infections, such as vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, and symptoms such as diarrhea from intestinal illnesses. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria.
Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. Modern hectic lifestyle, unfortunately, has brought about not so 'clean eating' habit (fast food and over-processed food). Vegetables, fruits, and barks, herbs, and spices in traditional jamu concoctions, are beneficial for maintaining the health of probiotics (also called prebiotics). With a change in consumption patterns and hectic lifestyle, it will be beneficial to start consuming prebiotics and probiotics (preferably live probiotics). Yogurt, kombucha, kefir, jun, and other fermented food such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tauco, can be tasty additions in our daily food consumption. Raw state of these fermented food will be much superior, as we preserve the live probiotics.
Probiotics are being studied for benefits in colon cancer, skin infections, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As with any dietary supplement, be aware that probiotic supplements are regulated as food, not drugs.