Probiotics- The Friendly Microbes

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Article By: Dhatri Madduru
Research Scholar, Osmania University, Hyderabad

Microorganisms (Microbes) are the living organisms that are not visible to the naked eye. Microbes are both harmful as well as beneficial.   Probiotics are the live microorganisms that have beneficial effects on human beings. The term probiotics has its origin from two Greek words ‘Pro’ meaning ‘for’ and ‘Biotikos’ giving a meaning ‘fit for life’. It is the term usually used as opposite for ‘antibiotics’. According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)/WHO (World Health Organization): Probiotics are "Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate (sufficient) amounts confer a health benefit on the host". Even from earliest stages of civilizations there are evidences of using these probiotics originated from dairy products and fermented foods for example curd. As stated by a great Greek physician Hippocrates ‘let food be your medicine’, probiotic strains present in our food can provide us nutrition and protection. Elie Metchnikoff, is considered as ‘Father of Probiotics’ for his extensive work on this field of Science.

The most common probiotics include bacteria belonging to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii. In recent years research is more focused on benefits of these probiotics on human health. Scientists have found that probiotics might help to prevent or cure infections and other diseases such as common cold, diarrhea, tooth decay etc. Probiotics usually perform their work by either of the 4 mechanisms: regulation of balance of intestinal microflora i.e. by altering harmful intestinal microflora (a group of microorganisms that are living in a particular tissue) and prevent intestinal infections, antimicrobial activity, variation of immune system and removal of harmful microbes (pathogens). For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus present in fermented milk (curd or butter milk) can solve the issues of indigestion.  Probiotics usually have minor side effects, however in people who have weakened immunity, they can cause complications such as infections occasionally.  

Probiotic products are available in market these days. India is in budding stages of probiotic industry. It is contributing around 1% to the global market. Amul, for the first time introduced probiotic ice-cream into the market in 2007. Later Mother Dairy introduced various probiotic products namely b-Activ Probiotic Dahi, b-Activ Probiotic Lassi, b- Activ Curd and Nutrifit (Strawberry and Mango). Now many companies like Nestle, Ranbaxy, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories have entered this industry.

Therefore, there is lot of scope in the field of probiotics not only for research to discover and improve new microbial (probiotic) strains but also to commercialize the product. 


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