The term probiotic refers to the beneficial bacteria or micro flora that populate our gut. Most of us know about acidophilus, which is one specific subspecies of bacteria. Many strains of beneficial bacteria exist, including bifid bacterium, streptococcus thermophilus, and several variants of lactobacillus.
The term “probiotic” is taken from the Greek and literally means “for life.” Humans have ingested fermented foods, the primary source of these live microorganisms, since ancient times as a means of maintaining health and treating digestive disorders. Nursing infants are exposed to beneficial bacteria through mothers’ milk.
Virtually every culture has developed a signature dietary source of beneficial bacteria, whether pickled vegetables from Asia, curdled milk products from India, miso from Japan, or sauerkraut and pickles from Europe. Early on, it was recognized that fermented products were helpful in treating diseases such as dysentery, heartburn, and general weakness.
New studies have proven the benefits of healthy intestinal flora. Balanced intestinal flora strengthens the immune system, protects the mucosal barrier in the gastrointestinal tract, helps to provide energy, and assists in the creation of hormones and vitamins. Probiotics are used to treat infant colic, irritable bowel syndrome, and dysbiosis from antibiotic treatment, illness, stress, radiation, and chlorinated drinking water. Signs of poor intestinal flora include gas, bloating, chronic yeast infections, asthma, allergy, bad breath, diarrhea, and constipation.