Probiotics are by now familiar to us all thanks to relentless adverts for breakfast yogurts and their almost miracle claims of better digestion and improved energy thanks to apparently magical ‘good bacteria’.
It’s easy to be cynical about probiotics if your only knowledge of them is from these adverts. After all, advertisers have been making spurious claims based on pseudo-science for health and beauty products since at least the 19th Century. However, in this case, there is some science to back up these claims.
Naturally, probiotics are not as magical as the adverts make them out to be. If they were, we’d all be doing cartwheels to work every day, but then marketing will always exaggerate for the sake of sales. And actually, the science is still in its early stages.
However, there is much encouraging evidence for the positive effects of probiotics, particularly in relation to digestive health (the main claim for probiotic foods).
There is even some preliminary research indicating that specific strains of probiotics may be useful in treating and/or alleviating the symptoms of Diabetes, certain types of cancer and obesity.
The interesting thing about probiotics that not many people know, is that the term is actually very broad. It doesn’t just indicate the ‘friendly bacteria’ that lives in your gut and helps you stay regular. Rather, the term refers to any microorganism that benefits the health of its host (to paraphrase the WHO definition).
As such, probiotics research is focused on identifying and examining specific strains of probiotics and investigating how they may be of benefit. One type of bacteria may be good for digestive health say, while another may be good for Diabetes. It’s not as simple as pouring some generic ‘friendly bacteria’ into a yogurt and all your health problems go away.
What is fascinating about this area of study, is that it is utilising biology to aid our own biology. Rather than the chemical creations whipped up in laboratories, probiotic medicine is based on using existing organisms that may or may not already inhabit our bodies in such a way to treat specific health problems.
There is an exciting future for probiotics. It may seem like they are simply used to help sell more breakfast yogurts, but this is actually an incredibly interesting area of medicine that may open many doors in the future.
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