By: Ms. Reema Bhatia (Nutritionist)
Probiotics, which means “for life” have been used for centuries as natural components in health promoting foods. Probiotics are live microbial feed supplements which beneficially affect the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance. Common probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus, acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei and different strains of Bifidobacterium. A number of experiments suggest a range of potentially beneficial medicinal use for probiotics.
Certain active strains of lactic acid bacteria may help lactose intolerant individuals to tolerate more lactose than what they otherwise can. This is seen in lactose deficient subjects who tolerate yogurt better than milk. Some lactic acid bacteria also have anti tumor effect – inhibition of mutagenic activity, decrease in several enzymes like B- glucuronidase implicated in the generation of carcinogens and mutagens promoting agents. Fermented dairy foods are able to breakdown bile in the gut, thus inhibiting the reabsorption of LDL cholesterols. Even several small clinical trials have shown that consumption of fermented milk can result in a modest reduction in blood pressure.
This may be due to Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE)inhibitors like pepticles induced during fermentation. Probiotics also improve immune function by increasing the number of IgA produces plasma cells, increasing phagocytosis as well as increasing the promotion of T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Probiotics may also decrease the incidence of respiratory tract infection and dental cases in children, decrease the severity and duration of rotavirus infection in children.
Lactic acid bacteria are thought to aid in the treatment of peptic ulcers and can even modulate inflammatory and hypersensitivity response e.g. they may prevent recurrence of inflammatory bowel disease and improve milk allergies. Curd is rich in probiotics, other foods like idli, dosa, dhokla etc, where fermentation part of cooking, may also be the source of probiotics. Certain ready made probiotic feeds and enriched milk products are also available in the market.