Although the words "probiotics" and "prebiotics" might sound like scientific terms to our ears, they are actually quite fashionable now in Egypt as well as worldwide, with doctors and nutritionists hailing their enormous benefits, and food and dairy products using them as an eye-catching, profit-boosting ingredient. Which actually leaves us wondering at the end of the day, whether the whole thing is for real or it is another commercial propaganda?
Our bodies are a host to numerous kinds of bacteria, of which almost five hundred species are in the gastro-intestinal tract and their main task is to help the process of digestion take place, assist the movement of food along the intestines and look after the membrane of the gut, thus boosting the immune levels. They also help balance the bad bacteria that can cause thrush, bladder infections and diarrhoea. Probiotics are live micro-organisms similar to those found in the gut.
"Indeed they are good," Dr Fawzi Elshobaki, Professor of Nutrition at the National Research Centre assures us. "What we should know is that probiotics are bacteria cells naturally found in certain kinds of yoghurts and can be added to food or even taken as supplements. They are beneficial in two main ways: they are a source of vitamins, especially vitamin B complex and they eliminate the harmful bacteria in the digestive system. As for the prebiotics, these are naturally occurring in certain kinds of food and they benefit and feed the existent probiotics, as the latter can easily digest the prebiotics to stay alive. That is why it is rather dangerous to abuse antibiotics, which wipe out good and bad bacteria without differentiating between them. That is the reason why doctors usually advise patients after high or continuous doses of antibiotics, to take food sources enriched with vitamins and probiotics."
Most research focusing on the high hopes regarding these organisms and the potential importance of pre- and probiotics, agree that although certain benefits are well-proven and documented, other potential benefits are waiting for further research and these include: reduction of blood cholesterol levels, treatment of infections, and even prevention of tooth decay and some cancers.
The Right Timing
Well, even if you are not one of the enthusiasts, consider taking probiotics in the following situations:
· When going through periods of extra pressure and stress
· When taking antibiotics, as they kill good and bad bacteria
· If you are a smoker or at the end of a detox diet
· When visiting other countries, as you face the possibility of contacting different bacteria that could cause trouble to your stomach.
· As you get older, or if you get sick due to micro-organisms like fungi, parasites or yeast.
"Certain misconceptions have to be clarified regarding this bacteria," says Dr Elshobaki."Probiotics are indeed helpful in cleansing the digestive system and contain many vitamins. But they cannot eradicate contaminants found in certain kinds of foods and crops and thus transferred to the human body, like pesticides, mercury or toxafins. Also, industries must abide by regulations controlling the proportions of bacteria added to the product per cubic centimetre.”