The definition of probiotics
The term probiotics is derived from the Greek word ‘pro bios’, meaning ‘for life’. Its original definition coined in the 1960s by Lily and Stillwell1 to mean - 'substances secreted by one micro-organism that stimulate the growth of another', i.e. a product that supports life. This definition has undergone multiple revisions over the years to explain that only those micro-organisms qualify as probiotics which are found to be beneficial to the health of the person consuming it.
Probiotics – a cocktail of multiple strains
The most widely used probiotics these days include lactic acid bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus (discovered in dairy products), Bifidobacterium (discovered in breast milk), Streptococcus, and other non-lactic acid strains such as Bacillus, E.Coli, Propionibacteria. In addition, strains of yeast such as Saccharomyces also are probiotic in nature2,3.
Not all microbes are bad, some are essential for our well-being
Our body, mainly our gut is a thriving community of microbes that symbiotically live with us. The human body provides these microbes the necessary boarding and lodging to survive, and the microbes return their favor by keeping our bodily functions in sync. Microbes ensure our gut integrity is maintained, our gut-immune interactions are cordial, gastrointestinal (GI) motility is smooth, and nutrient absorption from food is trouble-free. Disruptions in the form of infections, neurological disorders, dietary fluctuations, drug use (e.g. antibiotics) may have an adverse effect on this gut-microbe symbiosis, thus causing dysbiosis i.e. disruptions in the human body4. Probiotics and their therapeutic benefits predates the discovery of bacteria. Dairy products such as curd/yoghurt were known to be beneficial for the well-being of the person consuming it. Many years of careful scientific observation and exploration deduced the connection of beneficial bacteria and its products of fermentation, towards the maintenance of a healthy and happy gut. Many theories have been proposed to explain the multiple benefits that these ‘good’ bacteria/yeast impose on gut health and immunity. Scientific research today is pilling on evidence that are being validated towards improving common complaints such as constipation and diarrhea – health burdens that children with developmental disabilities (DD) commonly face. One line of thinking supports the theory that by promoting the growth of good bacteria, probiotics restore the lost balance of microbes, as is often the case in constipation. The byproducts generated by probiotic microbes have also been scientifically shown to alter peristalsis, i.e. movement of food through various passages of the gut5.
Scientific references, for further reading
- D.M. Lilly, R.H. Stillwell, Probiotics: Growth-promoting factors produced by microorganisms,Science, 147, 747–748 (1965)
- C.R. Soccol et al.: The Potential of Probiotics, Food Technol. Biotechnol. 48 (4) 413–434 (2010)
- Kechagia et al, Health benefits of Probiotics: a review, ISRN Nutrition, Volume 2013.
- Sommer F, Bäckhed F, The gut microbiota--masters of host development and physiology, Nat Rev Microbiol. Apr; 11(4):227-38 (2013)
- Dimidi et al. The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. Oct;100(4):1075-84 (2014)
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this guide is for information purposes only. Please consult a qualified health practitioner for safe management.
Read more about commonly known gut-related challenges in children with special needs.