What are Probiotics? Probiotic Science 101: the Secrets of the Digestive Microbiome.

July 12, 2018

When it comes to humans, each individual has a microbiome as distinct as their DNA.

A new science called microbiomics has emerged over the past decade as an exciting, if not revolutionary way to understand the fascinating world of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.

When it comes to humans, each individual has a microbiome as distinct as their DNA. And we initially acquire it during passage through the birth canal.

Scientists now understand every person contains a vast array of good and bad microorganisms in the form bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi living in harmony as an important component of our immune systems and expression of immune competence.

The digestive tract illustrates best how this works. Intestinal function depends upon a unique balance of both healthy and unhealthy microorganisms for effective, efficient digestion. Fortunately, so-called good germs dominate digestive interactions. However, when the microbial balance is disrupted by the use of cancer fighting medications, antibiotics or infection, overwhelming diarrhea and malabsorption can occur.

Along with microbiomics, the science of probiotics has mushroomed as well and scientists now recognize that probiotics may play important roles in immune health, cancer inhibition, and obesity as well as diseases like diabetes. Research confirms for instance, that administration of probiotics during antibiotic consumption, reduces the risk of diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.

Exactly how probiotics work remains of a mystery, however, proposed mechanisms of action include improving the performance of intestinal barriers to bad bacteria and stimulating the production of substances that inhibit the growth of unhealthy germs in the intestinal tract.

Taken in as food or in the form of commercially prepared supplements, probiotics are live cultures of health enhancing germs, the most common of which are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria species.  Examples of foods which contain probiotics include yogurt, Kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and some cheeses like cottage, cheddar, Gouda and mozzarella.

Large studies reveal that probiotics most reliably benefit persons with inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome and digestive disturbances caused by antibiotic use.

One final word, probiotics found in supplements are fragile. So, attention to expiration dates, closing the lid tightly and refrigeration after opening must be strictly observed to preserve the benefits found in these nutraceuticals.

This is Dr. Jim for Be Healthy! Be Happy! Power your path to happiness.


Linus Pauling Institute Oregon State University, 2015. Immunity in Depth. Online [available at]: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/immunity [Accessed may 19, 2018].

Harvard Health Publishing, 2015. Health benefits of probiotics. Online [available at]: https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics [Accessed May 19, 2018