What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics have long been a subject of interest in the scientific community. Loosely defined as living, “good” bacteria that help to support the digestive system, probiotics have quickly gained wide-reaching attention in the consumer space. While good bacteria are naturally found within the body—bacteria actually surpass the body’s cell count—they can be compromised under certain situations, throwing-off gut health balance and resulting in significant gastrointestinal distress.

Hence, the development of probiotics—essential microorganisms for preventing illness and improving digestive function.

The History of Probiotics

Understanding probiotics in their current form requires a quick trip back to the year AD 50, when Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder made recommendations to drink fermented milk as a remedy for solving intestinal issues. Soured milk products also became popular as “folk remedies” in the Middle East and Asia, where climate played a major role in the discovery of fermentation and its associated benefits. Though the presence of bacteria within these soured milk products was not yet recognized, the process itself quickly became revered for its effects.

Further developments into probiotics and their effect on gut health came many thousands of years later in 1899, when a Pasteur Institute research scientist in Paris, France discovered a Y-shaped bacteria living within the intestines of infants that had been breast-fed. Dubbed “Bifidobacteria,” Tissler’s discovery soon led to findings that infants harboring the bacteria were less likely to suffer gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea and associated illnesses.

While it has been proven that probiotics can indeed survive under such conditions, fermented foods fell somewhat out of fashion until Lactobacillus casei was shown to provide treatment for constipation and could restore normal colonization of bacteria in the digestive tract.

At the same time, a Russian scientist named Eli Metchnikoff (a colleague of Tissler’s at the Pasteur Institute) theorized that lactic acid bacteria in fermented milk products were associated with anti-aging properties. Metchnikoff’s notion came from observing people living in rural Bulgaria, a population stricken by poverty and a harsh climate who happened to live particularly long, who were also known for an allegiance to drinking fermented milk products. Metchnikoff named the organism “Lactobacillus bulgaricus” before going on to publish The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies, in which he details the substantial health benefits associated with ingesting “good” bacteria.

Just prior to Metchnikoff's idea that drinking fermented milk could help populate the gut with beneficial bacteria came an important discovery—antibiotics. Though perhaps the most important scientific discovery of their time, antibiotics quickly proved to kill good bacteria as well as the harmful bacteria they were intended to eliminate. The medical community at the time was struggling to deal with antibiotic-induced diarrhea, irritable bowel issues and more, all thanks to a newly invented therapy proven to save countless lives. Antibiotics, then, proved to be a double-edged sword that could potentially result in painful side effects which could not be mitigated easily.

Eli Metchnikoff won the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his discovery that beneficial bacteria can replace harmful microbes for treating intestinal illnesses—no small coincidence given the recent discovery of antibiotics. It was only after his death in 1916 that interest in and research into probiotics spread throughout the world.

In 1920, a problem arose when newer experiments seemed to show that the strain of Lactobacillus discovered by Metchnikoff was unable to survive in the presence of stomach acid. While it has been proven that probiotics can indeed survive under such conditions, fermented foods fell somewhat out of fashion until Lactobacillus casei was shown to provide treatment for constipation and could restore normal colonization of bacteria in the digestive tract.

The Current State of Probiotics

While Eli Metchnikoff is often called “The Father of Probiotics,” a great deal of work has been performed by other scientists since his death to further public and medical interest in the benefits of ingesting “good” bacteria. The term “probiotics” wasn’t even officially defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) until 2001—the official definition is, “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Further defining the term, microorganisms can be in the form of bacteria, viruses or yeast and can typically be seen only with a microscope.

One reason why probiotics have taken on such wide appeal in the consumer space is the over-prescription of antibiotics, which—while necessary in many cases—can disrupt protective microflora in the gut and are often prescribed for health issues that may clear up on their own. For those who have repeatedly taken courses of antibiotics, implementing a probiotic regimen may be the only way to reduce symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea. Add to this the threat of bacteria which shows microbial resistance to common antibiotics, and it becomes more clear why probiotics are currently at the forefront of conversation.

While most commonly taken to protect gut microflora that has been compromised by antibiotics, probiotics are also showing promise as a tool for staving-off stress and depression—an intriguing new area of research that has already spawned some surprising results. Similar studies have shown probiotics to be potentially more effective than placebo at treating individuals suffering from severe fatigue.

Probiotics: How They Work and Where to Get Them

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract contains a great deal of bacteria (referred to as “microflora”) both beneficial and harmful to overall health and wellness. Research has shown that the optimal ration of good-to-bad microflora in the gut is 85%-to-15% respectively, which is typical of a normal, healthy human being. Outside factors such as antibiotics, however, can cause the amount of good bacteria within the gut to drop, throwing the GI tract off balance and causing a wide range of potential health problems.

When taken in supplement form, probiotics help to replace bad bacteria that have been killed by antibiotics with millions of bacterial cultures the form of “colony forming units” (CFUs), helping to restore balance and return the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria to normal.

How Probiotics Work and Where to Get Them

Probiotics can be found in a number of different fermented foods—yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha are just a handful of examples. For those experiencing symptoms who are in need of a GI “reset,” however, a non-spore-forming probiotic supplement (ideally one containing large amounts of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, is recommended for best effect.

The Health Benefits of Probiotics

Thanks in large part to a growing interest in wellness throughout the world, probiotic supplements are more widely available today than ever in the past. There are a variety of reasons why people take probiotics, chief among them being the associated health benefits, including (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Immune System Support
  • Prevention of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
  • Improved Digestive Function
  • Reduced Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
  • Reduced Side-effects from Use of Antibiotics
  • Vaginal Microflora Balance

While studies are still being conducted, it’s thought that the benefits of probiotics extend far beyond maintaining a healthy gut—weight loss, acne control, cholesterol reduction and more are theorized to be additional benefits of taking probiotics regularly. Research even suggests that the use of probiotics may be helpful as a defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria—a problem that faces the global community as a whole.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to maintaining and improving intestinal health, a growing body of research shows that probiotic strains such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium play a key role in overall success. History has shown the benefits of ingesting fermented foods, and as science continues to progress, knowledge of how to get the most out of probiotics will only expand further.


About Innovia Nectar

Innovia Nectar is the first probiotic exclusively using innovative technology that guarantees an excellent probiotic shelf stability for 24 months. Unlike other probiotics, it’s designed with a micro-shot system that separates the powder probiotic from the plant extract- and vitamin-fortified liquid until the moment the packaging seal is broken and the two are combined. This unique system keeps the probiotic fresh, dry and stable until the moment of consumption.

SOFAR Americas, Inc. is owned by Italian pharmaceutical manufacturing firm SOFAR S.p.A., who has 45 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional field producing branded pharmaceuticals, medical devices and dietary supplements of the highest quality. Expertise, flexibility, and innovation are the guiding values and allow the design, development, production and distribution of the innovative products for the health and the well-being of the people.

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