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Know More about Probiotics!

HK BioTek

When it comes to probiotics, some people may only think of Yakult, or yogurt. In fact, what are probiotics? According to the WHO, probiotics are some micro-organisms that will produce health benefits in right amount. Humans’ interest in probiotics could be traced as early as years BC. The traditional fermented foods and milk contain probiotics. As Hong Kong people are experiencing busy life, poor gastrointestinal health might be resulted. In response, more and more probiotic products are produced. Before purchasing, we should first understand the basics of probiotics so that we would not be misled by commercials.

What are probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics?

When you look at the label of probiotic products, lots of complicated bacteria names are listed. Probiotics are divided into two categories, namely Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and each category is subdivided into different species, mainly named in two Latin words, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. There are also probiotics which do not belong bacteria, such as Saccharomyces boulardii (a yeast). They have to be specially made into capsules before taking. In addition to probiotics, prebiotics are the indigestible food elements (such as FOS) in the intestine that can selectively stimulate the growth of probiotics. Putting probiotics and prebiotics together, they are known as synbiotics.

"Are probiotics helpful for the gastrointestinal tract?" In my practical experience, many locals and mainlanders know little about probiotics. From the scientific point of view, according to the General Assembly of NCCAM in the United States in 2005, probiotics has the highest empirical effect in treating diarrhea, especially those caused by rotavirus in infants. Probiotics treat female urethritis and vaginitis, improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fight against diarrhea caused by antibiotic abuse, and even prevent eczema in children. It has been confirmed to have a certain effects on treatment and prevention. A doctor suggested that pregnant women, who take probiotics, could reduce the risk of children suffering from eczema in the future.

Probiotic activity is the key

Probiotics are very useful, but how about yogurts? Although yogurts are fermented foods containing probiotics, their activity is unknown. In the United States, yogurt producers adopt "post-fermentation heat treatment", which will kill most of the micro-organisms. Although the government will justify the amount of active microbes as claimed on the yogurt package and will only certify those products with active microbe content of more than 108 grams of lactic acid bacteria per gram, raw materials for fermentation (which are not probiotics) are counted. This might exaggerate the amount of probiotics present. However, pharmaceutical produced probiotics have a standard formulation, so the quality and quantity are more guaranteed.

The effectiveness of different strains varies based on scientific evidence. We have some tips on choosing probiotics. Lactobacillus reuteri, which is the most supported bacteria that have been proven effective by more than 50 clinical reports. Research found that it can improve infantile gastroenteritis diarrhea, colic and prevent eczema. In adults, it can improve stomach gas and dyspepsia, occasional constipation or diarrhea, lactose intolerance, discomfort after taking antibiotics. Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus acidophilus are also scientifically supported in their efforts in reducing diarrhea in children. In addition to traditional capsules and powder, some brands of probiotics use chewable tablets because they will not be killed easily by acid and bile. Clinical data shows that pregnant women and newborn babies can take probiotics safely. Detailed information on use of probiotics can be obtained from the pharmacist.

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