What are Probiotics

what are probioticsAs per the definition cited by UNFAO/WHO in 2001, probiotics are “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. As per the USDA, a probiotic is “any viable microbial dietary supplement that beneficially affects the host.”

In simpler terms, probiotics are essentially live helpful bacteria (but may also include other kinds of organisms such as yeast) that are naturally present in living beings, besides being found in probiotic supplements and foods. For a while, the concept of probiotics was dismissed as a mere marketing gimmick to sell probiotic pills, but over time it has become evident that they come with a ton of health benefits.

When consumed in the correct amounts, they work to modify the (mainly gastrointestinal) flora in a living being’s system, bringing balance to the “ecosystem” which consists of a multiplicity of bacteria in the stomach, intestines and other areas of the body.

History of Probiotics

Dr_Metchnikoff_in_his_LaboratoryThe concept of probiotics was first introduced in 1908 by Metchnikoff, a Russian zoologist known for his research of the immune system. His research led him to the understanding of how fermented milk-based food, which is rich in raw probiotics, helped increase longevity in Bulgarian peasants.

The term “Probiotics” itself was first used in 1953 by Kollath and is derived from Greek origin – from the words “pro” (which means to promote) and “biotos” (which means life), hence that which promotes life. Well-named, we think. The benefits of probiotics definitely put them into the category of life and health-promoting wonders!

Probiotics Today

Just a little more than a century after Metchnikoff’s study on probiotics, the concept of consuming functional foods that help prevent and treat disease has been gaining ground amongst both doctors and patients, all over the world. Foods with probiotics have become popular as a means to solve digestion-related problems and help build overall immunity.

In fact, probiotics today, are available in various forms, ranging from pills and powders to a wide range of dairy products like probiotic yogurt, cheese and even chocolate. Probiotic foods and supplements alike have become very popular in Western Europe, United States, Japan and other parts of Asia, and are becoming popular with the rest of the world too.

Common Types of Probiotic Bacteria

Okay, so we’ve introduced you to the idea that all bacteria or microbes are not as bad as you may have been led to believe. Now, it’s equally important to know which ones are actually the friendly, helpful kind and not the ones that will cause trouble when they’re residing in our bodies.

Here’s a list of the most common types of probiotic bacteria, found in our systems as well as in power-packed fermented foods and probiotics supplements :


Enterococcus Faecium – These bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals alike, can kill harmful microbes and are highly antibiotic-resistant. This strain can reduce the duration of diarrhea symptoms, as well as lower bad cholesterol and LDL levels in your body.

Leuconostoc-MesenteroidesLeuconostoc Mesenteroides – Used in food processing practically as long as the industry has existed, this bacteria is ingested through various kinds of foods, both in live and dead forms, as well as metabolites. Some strains have proved to help people suffering from liver disorders.


Streptococcus Thermophilus – While it may sound similar to the bacterial strain thaStreptococcus-Thermophilust causes strep throat (streptococcus pyogenes), it isn’t related. It’s helpful at treating and preventing intestinal disorders as well as lactose intolerance, and works in synergy with other gut bacteria.


LactobacillusLactobacillus – These friendly bacteria are found in our genital, urinary and digestive systems, and many dairy products are rich in the acidophilus probiotic strain and other beneficial types. They help our bodies fight off a wide range of disorders and build better immunity.


Bacillus-CoagulansBacillus Coagulans – This is another bacteria that is beneficial at treating gastrointestinal complaints and diarrhea, increasing the efficiency of vaccines and improving the immune system. Like lactobacillus, it helps our bodies produce lactic acid and is often used in industrial applications.


Saccharomyces-BoulardiiSaccharomyces Boulardii – This is actually a fungus, more commonly termed as a type of yeast that is known for its medicinal and anti-inflammatory qualities and is used to treat issues like diarrhea, and to fight pathogenic microorganisms such as E. coli and salmonella.


Bifidobacterium – With over 30 strains naturally found in our bodies, this bacteria helps fight Bifidobacteriumoff certain kinds of diarrhea, neutralize toxins and maintain the health of good intestinal microflora. It’s abundantly found in the intestinal tracts of infants who are breast fed.


Probiotic Supplements

Today, you can find probiotic supplements in various forms, like probiotic pills, capsules, powders and liquids. There are also different supplements to choose from based on the strain of probiotic bacteria that is present in them, or the quantity of beneficial microbes that they contain.

Even if you prefer the ingestion of probiotics from food, you may need to take supplements to help with specific conditions from time to time, so it helps to know what these are.

Here’s a quick overview of probiotics supplements:

By Forms of Intake – Depending on your preferences and requirements, you can choose supplements in various forms, like:


By CFU’s (Colony Forming Units) – This is a microbiological term that is used to describe how much viable bacteria a certain supplement has in a specific dosage. This ranges from 1 billion to 60 billion, depending on the product and the recommended dose, which defines how much live bacteria will be available to your system.

By Types (Strains of Bacteria) – You want the best probiotic type for what you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s a specific disorder, better digestion or just an overall improvement in health and immunity. Since each strain of probiotic microbes acts in a unique manner, pick a supplement that offers the ones your body needs.

Other than the obvious difference in the way they are ingested, these forms also vary in terms of dosage, potency, serving size, etc., so you should spend some time checking out what’s right for you.

Probiotic Foods

For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “probiotics” is probiotic yogurt or health supplements, but the term is actually used to describe a whole host of foods that contain beneficial microbes. So, are you curious to know what foods have natural probiotics?

  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Fermented Sauerkraut & Kimchi
  • Kvass
  • Kombucha-Tea

  • Pickles/Cultured Vegetables
  • Soy-Milk
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Raw-Cheese
  • Fermented-Soy

  • Miso
  • Umeboshi Plums
  • Umeboshi
  • Microalgae

Who Should Take Probiotics?

Probiotic microbes are a ‘do-good-for-all’ kind of group, since they are present in everyone. While there is no specific separation of probiotic foods/supplements for people of different ages and genders (and often even pets), the recommended dosages and the benefits that they offer can be classified according to:


Probiotics for Men 

The intake of probiotic yogurt and other foods/supplements help keep your digestive, urinary and immune system on track to maintain better health. Probiotics can also be effective at treating high blood pressure, cholesterol, weight gain, liver disorders and gastrointestinal complaints, especially in older men.


Probiotics for Women

Vaginal probiotics, especially probiotics for yeast infection treatment are highly beneficial at fighting bacterial vaginosis and other ailments. Probiotics for vaginal health aren’t the only ones recommended for women – different foods/supplements can aid overall health, weight maintenance and more.


Probiotics for Children

Research has found that probiotics for kids reduce the occurrence of childhood allergies as well as improve immune responses. Probiotics for infants are naturally transferred to their systems from the mother’s body during birth, and breast feeding also leads to higher levels of baby probiotics.


Probiotics for Pets

Certain kinds of good bacteria inhabit the bodies of all mammals, so there are definite benefits in probiotics for dogs and other pets. Bifidobacteria is particularly helpful as a probiotic for dogs, and can be added to your pet’s diet through the right kinds of food or as low-dosage supplements (as recommended by a vet).

Probiotics 101

Probiotics are the wonder-bacteria, the so-called superheroes for our bodies. Check out how below:

  • How Do Probiotics Work? We take a look at how probiotics do such a great job in different areas of our bodies, especially those that live in our gut.
  • Probiotics for Gut Health Check out this page to understand exactly why our bodies need beneficial gut bacteria in them, in a little more detail.
  • Probiotics Benefits This page expands upon the benefits of probiotics, especially in terms of specific disorders that can be treated by including them in your diet.
  • How to Take Probiotics Take a look at the details of how to include probiotics in your daily intake of foods, how to select probiotic supplements, and more.

  • When to Take Probiotics Understand when you should consider taking specific probiotics, whether in the food you consume daily or through supplements.
  • Probiotics Side Effects People always want to know, “Are there any probiotic side effects I should worry about?” – This page answers that question for you.
  • Probiotics and Antibiotics For most of us, probiotics are something doctors prescribe after a course of antibiotics. Here’s a look at why and how this helps.
  • Probiotics vs. Prebiotics Ever wonder about what the difference is between ‘pre’ and ‘pro’-biotics? Check out this page for details.

Check out this page for some of the questions that people commonly ask about probiotics, and the answers to them.