Man, Microbes and Probiotics
It is a common observation that first impressions are usually the last impressions. Science, however, begs to differ. Scientific hypothesis are constantly evolving. Experiments produce varying results and scientists are sometimes left scratching their heads.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Russian scientist and Nobel laureate Élie Metchnikoff, who was credited for coining the term ‘gerontology’, proposed that aging is caused by toxic bacteria in the gut and that lactic acid could prolong life. He suggested that it would be possible to modify the gut flora and to replace harmful microbes with useful microbes. Not surprisingly, his theory was met with speculation due to the common (and for that time, reasonable) perception that ‘all microbes are bad for health’. However, Mechnikoff was successful in countering the opposition he faced.
It was at that time known that milk fermented with lactic-acid bacteria inhibits the growth of proteolytic bacteria because of the low pH produced by the fermentation of lactose. Metchnikoff himself introduced in his diet sour milk fermented with the bacteria he called “Bulgarian Bacillus” and found his health benefited. Friends in Paris soon followed his example and physicians began prescribing the sour milk diet for their patients. Inspired by Metchnikoff’s work, Minoru Shirota, a Japanese scientist developed a stronger strain of lactic acid bacteria which might work to destroy the harmful bacteria living in the intestines.
In 1930 he became the first in the world to succeed in culturing a strain of lactic acid bacteria beneficial to human health. This bacterium was named Lactobacillus casei strain. And so probiotics were born. Today, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria, namely probiotics.
More specifically, Probiotics are viable bacterial cell preparations or foods containing viable bacterial cultures or components of bacterial cells that have beneficial effects on the health of the host (Fuller, 1989; Salminen et al., 1998b). According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, the best case for probiotic therapy has been in the treatment of diarrhea. Controlled trials have shown that Lactobacillus GG can shorten the course of infectious diarrhea in infants and children (but not adults). They have also been used therapeutically to modulate immunity, lower serum cholesterol, treat rheumatoid arthritis, prevent cancer, improve lactose intolerance, and prevent or reduce the effects of atopic dermatitis, diarrhea, and constipation as well as candidiasis and urinary tract infections (Reid, 1999).
The use of probiotics is now increasing in our part of the world in both clinical and agricultural practices. In 2005, an experiment was carried out at MS Poultry Farm Baffa, district Mansehra, North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The main objective of the study was to evaluate the effects of different levels of locally available probiotics. The effectiveness of the product was quantified in terms of gain in body weight (GBW), dry matter intake (DMI) and feed efficiency (FE).
Results showed significant increases in GBW and FE and decrease in DMI. The paper published stated, “Based on the results of present study, it was concluded that the inclusion of OGC probiotic @ 2 g/kg had the potential to improve the growth performance of commercial Hubbard broiler chicks during starter phase.” Recently, Dr Carlos Lifschitz, a leading pediatric gastroenterologist spoke at The Biennial International Pediatric Conference in Karachi about how the use and benefits on probiotics have evolved over the years. He highlighted several examples such as that of the probiotic ‘Bifidobacterium Lactis’ (Bb12) which was shown to heighten immune response in cesarean delivered infants.
According to him, “These results demonstrate that negative immune-related effects of not breast-feeding and cesarean delivery can be mitigated by including Bb12 in infant formula.” Moreover, Bifidus BL was also shown to exert positive effects in pregnant women as it “helps in establishing a healthy gut flora if the mother and the baby for natural protection and contribute to the prevention of preterm labour and also in the post-partum weight management”.
Responding to the all-important question, ‘Are probiotics safe to use?’, Dr Lifschitz said, “Overall one could say they are safe, although some cases of bacteremia and fungemia have been described for some probiotics. However no cases have been reported for Bb12 or Lactobacillus reuteri. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of L.reuteri in 2008 and an international expert panel has given it the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) approval in 2008.
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