What Exactly Are Probiotics And Why Is Everyone So Excited About Them
You would have heard about Probiotcs from your healthy friend or through innumerable commercials on Television. You would have also heard about them from your doctor. So what exactly are these Probiotics and why is everyone so excited about them?
Current Stand on Probiotics:
Probiotcs are defined as living organisms that when administered confer a health benefit on the host. Scientists have found that certain kinds of micro-organisms are found in greater number in health and others in disease. Some organisms are found in the same quantities in both health and disease (These presumably do not have much of a role to play therefore). These organisms which are associated with health are studied as to why they are related so? The answers range from a direct production of beneficial byproducts, a suppression of disease-producing pathogens, modulating the immune system to make it stronger and less prone to auto immune diseases.
There may be other mechanisms that are not understood as yet as well. To put it simply, the idea behind Probiotic use to promote the growth of ‘good’ micro-organisms and shift the balance of natural microflora towards a health promoting one.
Of course, a fancy sounding theory is good but does it hold up in well conducted clinical trials as well? Yes, it does. There now exists enough evidence to conclusively prove that the use of Probiotics in conditions such as acute diarrhea, antibiotic associated diarrhea, and food allergies is effective in both treatment and prevention. It is safe to consume and has not shown any significant deleterious side effects and is being used widely by doctors all over the world for the aforementioned conditions.
Initial studies reveal extremely encouraging evidence for the use of Probiotics in preventing dental caries, metabolic disorders such as diabetes and a number of autoimmune disorders. These are all fields that require a deeper look and the collection of more scientific evidence.
Keep in mind that we still have not touched on the biggest advantage of all. No resistance to treatment as is seen in the case of antibiotics since it is the micro-organisms themselves which are modulating the colonies.
The Questions that need Answers:
Now, one question that may have crossed your mind is if Probiotics are good at so many things then why are they not used more frequently?
The answer to this lies in the details. There are still some important questions that scientists and regulators need to find the answer to before Probiotics can be used with precision and predictability. This includes the exact number of microbial populations to be used in preparations, different micro-organism combinations, the time required for ingestion as well as streamlining the processing procedures and subjecting them to stricter norms for quality control.
Medicine moves extremely slowly and cautiously to adopt newer techniques, which is a wise thing. Until and unless doctors and researchers are completely convinced about each and every aspect of Probiotics, they will be hesitant to use it.
It is also to be expected that studies will emerge that conflict the use and advantages of Probiotics. This is the nature of science. As Probiotics are applied to more and more situations, different methodologies and regimens are tried, the failure rate will also rise. This is a natural process in every field and helps narrow down the focus towards things and processes that actually work.
Currently, Lactobacillus GG is the most studied strain, however, there is no compulsion that will be limited to only this. We are greatly limited by our ability to culture different strains of micro-organisms currently, however, promising research in that area promises a much wider number of micro-organisms being accessible to scientists in the near future.
There is a reason that some of the best minds in scientific research today are concentrating their efforts in furthering the field of Probiotcs and that is the potential to change the very way we dispense medication and treat illnesses.
Animal studies have shown a role for Probiotics in the treatment and prevention of a number of bowel and bladder cancers, liver cancer, joint pain and even in increasing the success of grafts and transplants. It is not implausible to envision a future where carefully sensitized micro-organisms in the form of tablets or capsules are given prophylactically to people at a high risk for auto-immune diseases, family history of caries susceptibility, allergies (food and environmental) and others.
Another use of Probiotics is in the post-surgical phase, where they can be used to promote the colonization of healthy disease-producing micro-organisms which set up the environment for more of their species to thrive and thus help in better healing and prevent a relapse.
As antibiotic resistant strains of micro-organisms become more and more rampant, and our supply of newer class of antibiotics dry up, science will have to look for alternatives to be able to effectively manage patients. The field of Probiotics could be that alternative, and its early results and future potential has everyone excited for what’s to follow.