There are more than 100 trillion microbes live inside our body, making up 1-3% of human mass. The human gut, where 70% of the immune system is located, is chock full of a variety of bacteria, both good and bad. Each strain of probiotics has a different effect on our health, i.e., it boosts the good bacteria and helps restore microbial balance. Despite the popularity of probiotics, do you know what they are and how to ensure their efficacy?
The term "probiotics" was first used in 1965, and was then defined as "a substance secreted by one microorganism, which stimulates the growth of another.” Until 2001, probiotics were officially defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as " live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." Although many foods and supplements also contain live microorganisms, only proven healthy and beneficial bacteria can be called "probiotics".
The efficacy of probiotics is affected by three factors:
1. Choosing the right live bacteria product:
There are tens of thousands of different strains of probiotics, yet not all of them have enough scientific research to prove their efficacies. According to a study, mixtures of probiotics had more beneficial effects on the end points including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea, atopic disease (e.g., eczema, asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis), immune function and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) when compared with single strains. Multi-strain (mixed) probiotics backed by scientific research evidence appear to show greater efficacy than single strains. This may be due to synergistic interactions between strains which help in rebuilding the gut microbiota ecosystem.
2. Microencapsulation technology improves probiotics survival:
Probiotics must survive incredibly harsh acidic conditions to reach the large intestine in sufficient quantity to enable colonization and proliferation. However, most of the probiotics lack the ability to survive in large numbers because of the low pH value (pH = 2) in gastric acid that limits their effectiveness. Take for example, Bifidobacterium which is considered an obligate anaerobic bacteria; the optimum pH and temperature for its growth is in the range of 6.0 - 7.0 and 25℃ - 45°C respectively. Unfortunately, the pH of human stomach acid ranges between 0.8 and 3.5, which can practically kill the circulating probiotics. To enhance the survival of probiotics during gastric transit, microencapsulation may be employed to increase the resistance of sensitive microorganisms against gastric conditions. As a result, high-end techniques are required to fulfil many demands of a successful probiotics microencapsulation.
3. Combining the right prebiotics with probiotic bacteria
Prebiotics play a significant role in strengthening the function of probiotics and increasing the number of beneficial bacteria. Certain prebiotic fibers provide essential nutrients for anaerobic bacteria that are important for immune function; they are the food sources for the probiotic bacteria when they reach the large intestine and are non-digestible by the human body. Prebiotics beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth of specific gut beneficial bacteria, in particular bifidobacteria.
A combination of prebiotics and probiotic bacteria which can provide even more benefits than probiotics and prebiotics alone.
There are several kinds of prebiotics, including oligomeric galactose, oligomeric xylose, oligomeric fructose and oligomeric isomaltose, etc. Among them, xyloligosaccharide (XOS) are effective at lower doses and increase bifidobacteria.
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Chapman, C. M., Gibson, G. R., & Rowland, I. (2011). Health benefits of probiotics: are mixtures more effective than single strains?. European journal of nutrition, 50(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-010-0166-z
Shori, A. B. (2017). Microencapsulation Improved Probiotics Survival During Gastric Transit. HAYATI Journal of Biosciences, 24(1), 1–5. doi:10.1016/j.hjb.2016.12.008
Pranckutė, R., Kaunietis, A., Kuisienė, N., & Čitavičius, D. J. (2016). Combining prebiotics with probiotic bacteria can enhance bacterial growth and secretion of bacteriocins. International journal of biological macromolecules, 89, 669–676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2016.05.041
Finegold, S. M., Li, Z., Summanen, P. H., Downes, J., Thames, G., Corbett, K., Dowd, S., Krak, M., & Heber, D. (2014). Xylooligosaccharide increases bifidobacteria but not lactobacilli in human gut microbiota. Food & function, 5(3), 436–445. https://doi.org/10.1039/c3fo60348b