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Interest in probiotics has increased noticeably in recent years. They can be found in several foods, especially dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and dairy-based beverages.
Probiotics can also be taken as supplements and can be found in pharmacies or natural food stores. More and more is being learned on the benefits of probiotics, which explains their increasing popularity.
In simple terms, the digestive tract is made up of the oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestine and rectum. When food is ingested, it travels along the digestive tract where the different nutrients are absorbed by the body. The surplus which has not been absorbed is then eliminated in the stool.
There are about 100 000 billion bacteria present in the digestive tract (equal to 1.5 pounds in weight), belonging to hundreds of different species. The term “bacteria” often evokes the image of harmful germs. However, certain bacteria contribute to good health. The billions of “good” and “harmful” bacteria present in the intestine form a stable ecosystem called “intestinal flora.” As it is true for all ecosystems, it is important to maintain its balance. Therefore, “good” bacteria are essential in keeping the intestine healthy. They prevent the growth of “harmful” bacteria which may cause infection, stimulate the immune system, help keep the intestine regular (by preventing diarrhea and constipation), and help with digestion and the production of certain nutrients.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as follows: “Live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.1” In other words, these are germs (most often bacteria) which have a favorable effect on health rather than causing infections.
The most commonly used probiotics are bifidobacteria and lactobacillus (bacteria). Some types of yeast are also considered to be probiotics.
Probiotics help maintain a good balance of the intestinal flora. Reliable scientific research shows that certain probiotic products help to maintain a healthy intestine as well as prevent and treat several health problems. Several studies are still underway to get a better understanding of the benefits of probiotics.
In light of these positive results, doctors and pharmacists are recommending probiotic products more and more to prevent and treat different medical conditions. Ask your healthcare professional about the potential benefits of probiotic products on your health.
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