What is the first word you associate with you hear the word, ‘bacteria’?
INFECTIONS! ….Isn’t it?
Right you are! Majority of us associate bacteria only with infections, with diseases, with suffering and with loss of good health.
It’s time to change your perception of ‘Bacteria’. So read along for a new perspective on ‘Bacteria’.
Bacteria are microscopic, single-cell organisms capable of existing in every possible environment on planet earth, including the insides of your own body. Yes! We have over 60 trillion bacteria, found commonly in our intestines, on the skin, in the oral cavity, in the genitor-urinary tract. Are you aware that the adult digestive tract contains up to 1 kilogram of bacteria, most of which are present in the colon (large intestine)? These are called as our microflora. We have within our gut, more than 400 species of bacteria which are identified and many which have yet to be identified!
Why do have these? Are they not harmful? Do they not cause infections?
These bacteria, which lie within us, are very important for our health and wellbeing. With a few exceptions, majority of them are beneficial for our health and we need to maintain a good balance of these good bacteria vis-a-vis the bad bacteria. It is here that the ‘Probiotics’ play an important role.
Probiotics, refers to live microorganisms (bacteria and yeast), given as food or supplement to improve the balance of the intestinal microflora and many other beneficial effects in the body. More than a century ago, Ellie Metchnikoff observed that Bulgarians, who consumed a lot of yogurt, lived longer and healthier lives. He suggested the hypothesis that the bacteria which ferment milk into curds or yogurt can benefit health. These bacteria, named as Lactobacillus bulgaricus, could produce lactic acid. Now, we have scientists in many countries identifying exact species of bacteria that can be most useful to us which include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Sachharomyces (a yeast), and others. To protect the bacteria from destruction by gastric acid, they are given in inactive spore forms and in large numbers, which on reaching the intestines start thriving and growing.
Probiotics help to digest food, especially certain types of fibre and provide our body with energy. They also act as barriers to infections, particularly of the gastro-intestinal and genito-urinary tract, where it forms a carpet-like layer and does not allow the harmful bacteria to grow. Probiotics are often used alongwith antibiotics to replenish the good bacteria, that can be killed by the antibiotics alongwith the harmful bacteria. Probiotics also help to regulate the immune system in infants and protects against allergies and autoimmune diseases. New research is also exploring the association between the ‘Gut & the brain’ and evaluating role of probiotics for ‘Physiological stress’, role of probiotics in certain cancers, in constipation, in infectious diarrhoea, in irritable bowel syndrome, in oral health, in skin allergies and many other areas. Some probiotic preparations also include, what is called as, ‘Prebiotics’. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients which stimulate good growth of the bacteria in the colon and enhance the benefits of the probiotics.
So, are you ready to include a cup of yogurt in your meals? Or some cheese or Soya beverages? Look at the labels of food items while you shop next and you will surprised to see certain brands of chocolates, juices, flour and cereals are fortified with probitoics. Besides these food items, you can also find probitoics available as supplements in capsules, in small volume liquids, called as nutritional shots, as dry powder granules in sachets, etc. So next time you hear the word, ‘bacteria’ think of ‘Friendly bacteria’ and ‘Good health’.