History of Probiotics

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Probiotics means “for life”. It’ a combination of “pro” meaning for and “biotics” meaning relating to, produced by, or caused by living organisms. The Russian scientist and Nobel laureate Eli Metchnikoff first introduced the positive role of certain bacteria to the human body. In the beginning of the 20th century he suggested that it would be possible to replace harmful microbes with useful ones. At that time he was a professor at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He believed that the aging process was due to toxins such as phenols, indols and ammonia in the large intestine, produced by proteolytic microbes such as clostridia. Clostridia are normal to the gut. He noted that milk fermented with lactic acid bacteria inhibited the growth of the proteolytic bacteria because of the low pH produced by the fermentation of the lactose. Metchnikoff also observed that certain rural peoples in Europe such as in Bulgaria, who lived mainly on milk fermented with lactic acid bacteria, lived a relatively long life. He then introduced sour milk fermented with the bacteria to his diet and found his health benefited from the consumption. He called it “Bulgarian Bacillus”. His friends followed suit and soon physicians were prescribing the sour milk to their patients.

The first person to isolate Bifidobacterium was Henry Tissier. He also was from the Pasteur Institute. He isolated the bacterium from a breast-fed infant and called it Bacilus bifidus communis. It was later renamed Bifidobacterium bifidum. Tissier concluded it was the predominate microflora in breast-fed infants and recommended it for babies suffering from diarrhea.

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In 1917, the German professor Alfred Nissle isolated the bacterium Escherichia coli from the feces of a World War I soldier who didn’t develop enterocolitis when he had a severe case of shigellosis. He used the strain to treat intestinal diseases such as shigellosis and salmonellosis with a considerable amount of success. At that time antibiotics weren’t yet discovered. The probiotic Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 is still in use today. It’s been shown to directly interact with the adaptive immune system.

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In 1920, Professor Leo F. Rettger showed that “Bulgarian Bacillus”, later known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus couldn’t live in the human intestine. So at this point Metchinikoff’s theory was disputed and the idea of fermented food died out. After Metchinikoff’s death research activity moved to the US.

In 1935, it was found that certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus were very active, when introduced to the human digestive tract. Tests were carried out and it was found to be helpful in relieving chronic constipation.

In 1953, Werner Kollath a renowned nutritionist wrote an article in an old German journal. He said, “High value food should supplement low value food. In order to make such food supplements palatable to people one may denote all organic and inorganic complexes as probiotics in contrast to harmful antibiotics.” Most recent publications basically refer to the same sources for the definition of the term probiotic. Lilly and Stillwell are given recent credit for coining the term in 1965. They defined it as “ a substance produced by one microorganism stimulating the growth of another microorganism”. It is the opposite of an antibiotic. In 1974, R. B. Parker gave a different view and said, “ Organisms and substances which contribute to intestinal balance” are probiotics. Roy Fuller, in 1989, defined a probiotic as “ a live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance”.

In 1992, R. Havenaar and Huis in’t Veld said, “ A viable mono- or mixed culture of microorganisms which, applied to animal or man beneficially affects the host by improving the properties of the indigenous microbiota”. The same year M. E. Sanders stated, “ Probiotics, simply defined, are microbes consumed for a health effect.”

Over the years experts have debated over how to define probiotics. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have developed one widely used definition. It’s that probiotics are “ live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. Microorganisms are defined as tiny living organisms which can be bacteria, viruses, and yeast, which can only be seen under a microscope.

Probiotics are not synonymous with prebiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or the activity of beneficial microorganisms already in people’s colons. They're meant as food for the target microbes. An example is FOS. When prebiotics are mixed with probiotics in a supplement, they form what is called a synbiotic.

Probiotics are available in both food and supplements such as tablets and capsules. Foods containing probiotics include yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, tempeh, miso, and fermented soy.

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The information on enzyme-facts.com is not offered for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease or disorder nor have any statements herein been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We strongly encourage you to discuss topics of concern with your health care provider.

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