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Last updated: 03 Dec, 2016  

Probiotics - Your Key to Good Health and Great Immune System

NewsVoir | 03 Dec, 2016
These are challenging times. Life is on a fast track with unbalanced diet, stress, lack of physical activity, irregular working hours and lack of proper nutrition. Each one of these factors has taken its toll and it is an undisputed fact that lifestyle disorders like obesity and diabetes and Non Communicable Diseases like cancer are on the rise. There is therefore an urgent need to find solutions that can counter the growing threat. The concept of “Functional foods” that are globally accepted and focus on “Prevention being better than Cure” is a welcome addition for the improvement of health and prevention of disease.


For a long time it has been believed that bacteria cause disease, so the idea of consuming a few billion bacteria a day for your health might seem -literally and figuratively - hard to swallow. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can prevent and even treat several diseases with foods and supplements containing selected live bacteria. Consuming a lot of these beneficial microorganisms, called Probiotics (from pro and biotic, meaning "for life"), which reach the intestine alive to deliver their health benefit is an ideal way of ensuring a strong digestive system and boost functional immune system. Scientific and clinical evidence have progressed rapidly with more than 8000 International publications available on the term “Probiotics” which act by favourably modulating the gut microbiota and result in improvement of health and prevention of disease.


You would be surprised to know that we harbour more than 100 trillion organisms which are almost 10 times the number of human cells; the largest numberof these organisms are found in the intestine and are known as intestinal microbiota. The intestinal microbiota aids digestion, helps in better absorption of nutrients, produces vitamins especially Vitamin B and K. Gut microbes have unique ways to enhance immunity. With more than 70% of the immune cells being found in the intestine, the intestinal  microbes can interact with the immune cells to influence the development and maturation of the immune system.  The intestine is therefore referred to as the Largest Immune Organ.


Global experts shared the latest findings on the influence of the intestinal microbiota with the onset of disease and the benefit of probiotics in alleviating them. They also established a strong link between the benefits of probiotics in building a strong immune system. The rationale was also to present the evolving science of probiotics among healthcare professionals like doctors, scientists, nutritionists and students in India and enable them understand the intrinsic goodness of Probiotics.


While globally, decades of research have identified some promising gastrointestinal and immune targets for probiotics that include maintenance of a healthy intestinal function, improved tolerance to antibiotics and an overall reduced risk for different chronic diseases, new findings have reinforced the all-round goodness of probiotics.


According to Prof. N.K. Ganguly, "The field has advanced rapidly in the last ten years and it has become clear that the intestinal microbiota and its associated metabolites are involved in obesity, autoimmune disorders, neurological diseases, cancer, childhood under nutrition, and immunity to both enteric and systemic infections. Current advances indicate that the intestinal microbiota can influence brain development and behaviour of the host. Additionally, recent findings have proved that the lower respiratory tract is not sterile and there exists a core lung microbiome, all pointing to the importance of microbes in human health."


According to Prof. B.S. Ramakrishna, "The gastrointestinal microbiota is a complex ecosystem that interacts with and majorly influences physiological function of the body, in particular the intestine. The gastrointestinal microbiota comprises both beneficial and potentially harmful organisms. Probiotics tilt the balance of the gut microbiota to a favourable profile, and have specific effects on the gastrointestinal immunity. Probiotics alter the expression and redistribution of tight junction proteins and reduce intestinal permeability limiting the absorption of noxious molecules from the gut lumen. These effects may be important in limiting intestinal inflammation and preventing inflammatory bowel disease in susceptible hosts. Probiotics are therefore useful in the maintenance of intestinal health and prevention of a variety of gut disorders including antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, acute gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome."


According to Prof. Bruno Pot, "The intestinal microbiota of pregnant women changes in the third trimester of pregnancy in order to deliver to the newborn baby a microbiota that will help the neonate to develop its own immune system in an optimal way.  Moreover it has been shown that bacteria can be transferred from the mother to the child through breast milk. Even amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood have been shown to contain selected maternal bacteria. While the vaginal microbiota in normal condition plays a significant role in preventing bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections, the composition also changes naturally at the end of pregnancy, presumably to boost an optimal start of the microbiota, and therefore the immune development of the vaginally born baby. It has been observed that babies born by caesarean section have a microbiota that is different from naturally delivered babies. It is therefore clear that microbiota and host have evolved together in a symbiotic relationship and that this co-evolution is continuing by a ‘programmed’ transfer from mother to child, generation after generation… Surely an important reason enough to care about the quality of our microbiota at all times!"


According to Dr. Masanobu Nanno, Deputy Director of Yakult Central Institute at Tokyo in Japan, “A well-balanced gut microbiota with high diversity ensures good health. However owing to lifestyle disorders, gut microbiota can be affected by imbalanced diets, severe stress, unhygienic conditions, drugs, antibiotics or pathogenic infection. Our clinical studies confirm that probiotics are regarded as highly valuable to restore the desirable gut microbiota. One of the better ways to maintain the health in the elderly is to keep the gut microbiota diverse using probiotics as it improves the gut microenvironment by recovering the well-balanced microbiota in the intestinal tract.  In the case of elderly, they suffer from infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases including cancer more frequently than in younger subjects. It is also proven in clinical studies that some probiotic strains could reduce the risk of cancer, especially bladder and colorectal cancers. Recent cases have proved that incidence of breast cancer is reduced by regular consumption of fermented milk containing lactic acid bacteria and isoflavone since adolescence.”


Dr. Raphael Moriez elaborated that advances in research have described the importance of gut microbiota in influencing these gut-brain interactions. In clinical practice, evidence of bidirectional microbiota gut-brain interactions comes from the association of the imbalance of the intestinal microbiota with central nervous disorders (e.g. autism, anxiety-depressive behaviors) and functional gastrointestinal disorders. Rodent studies have provided evidence that probiotics (e.g. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) can influence behavior, by impacting on gut-brain interactions.


Dr. B Sesikeran said, “That one of the largest community based studies was conducted in India at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (Kolkata), an ICMR institute. This study was conducted on 4000 children and revealed that consumption of a probiotic drink that contains Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota for 3 months can prevent the incidence of diarrhoea by 14%.Many other studies are being conducted in India to evaluate the benefits of probiotics”.  According to him it will be important to develop a strong regulatory framework for probiotic foods and he was happy to state that the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Department of Biotechnology have established guidelines for probiotic foods which have been adapted in the recently released “ Standards of Health supplements, Neutraceutical, Food for Special Dietary Use, Food for Special Medical Purpose, Functional food and Novel Food”.  The same definition and criteria laid down in the guidelines are also part of the regulation.


Although the Indian market is still nascent capturing the understanding and need for the probiotic category, the increasing scientific credibility and the new emerging holistic concept of health that focuses on  promoting good health rather than the manifestations of ill health will see the probiotic category advance as an important functional food  for promoting and maintaining good health.

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