Probiotics - natural support for the body

Probiotics - natural support for the body

Anna Krzymińska, Master of Pharmacy
Head of the Damian Pharmacy Centrum Medyczne Damiana

In the winter illness season, especially during antibiotic therapies, we often hear that our therapy should be supplemented with probiotics. Although they are commonly used, many people are still insufficiently aware of the benefits they bring and why they constitute such an important health-promoting factor.

The term “probiotic” is derived from the Greek word pro bios (meaning, for life), and was coined as an antonym for the term “antibiotic”. It refers to living microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) which, upon consumption, exhibit a favourable influence on the host’s body.

The bacteria that physiologically occur in a healthy human body are essential for its proper functioning. Most of them are present in the GI tract, mainly the intestines. The large intestine itself is house to 500 - 1,000 species of microorganisms and, though it seems unbelievable, the overall mass of intestinal bacteria existing in a human body amounts to as much as 2 kg.

The most important and beneficial intestinal bacteria include the lactic bacteria of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genus. They protect the host’s body against the action of pathogenic bacteria by preventing their reproduction and permeation into the bloodstream.Moreover, they are vital for digestive and absorption processes, vitamin (B and K) synthesis, cholesterol metabolism and absorption of mineral micro- and macroelements.

Intestinal bacteria perform a number of beneficial functions in a human body, such as:

  • ensuring proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract mucous membrane;
  • regulating intestinal passage;
  • stimulating the activities of the immune system;
  • synthesising nutrients and increasing their bioavailability;
  • alleviating the symptoms of lactose intolerance;
  • reducing the risk of allergies in vulnerable individuals;
  • limiting the likelihood of developing some cancers.

The composition of the natural bacterial flora in a healthy individual is balanced, with a majority of advantageous and beneficial microorganisms. Unfortunately, improper diet, stressful life and too severe antibiotic therapies destroy such a balance. Disturbing the subtle equilibrium in this complex system leads to disorders in the human body homeostasis and may pave the way for serious diseases. The symptoms of disturbed bacterial flora composition in the intestines include flatulence, improper function of the immune system (emergence of allergic symptoms) and changes in the cells of intestinal walls (including neoplastic lesions).

In numerous situations, the equilibrium of the intestinal microflora ecosystem is of fundamental importance for restoring and then maintaining health. Such situations include:

  • bacterial and viral infections;
  • antibiotic therapies;
  • inflammatory diseases of the intestines;
  • improper diet;
  • sudden changes in eating habits;
  • chronic stress.

To strengthen or regenerate the favourable bacterial flora in our gastrointestinal system, it is necessary to act in a comprehensive manner, taking agents that boost its functions and modifying our diet. In a pharmacy, we can find three types of products:

  • probiotics– containing bacterial cultures with beneficial action, primarily the lactic bacteria;
  • prebiotics– which are components of our food that boost the development of intestinal bacterial flora (e.g. starch, dietary fibre, polysaccharides and health-promoting food additives);
  • synbiotics– which combine the actions of pro- and prebiotics.

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