The word root of probiotic means “for life.” The wonder of those words is worth reflection. Whose life? What kind of life? For the rest of life? It also screams out for missing words that are often linked to “life.” Like quality of life, way of life, happiness and satisfaction in life and even “get a life!” As strange as it may seem, the word “probiotic” has come to represent unseen microscopic forms of life as a path to heal what ails us humans (and our pets!) in modern life.
In 2001, at the request of the World Health Organization, one of Canada’s leading scientists helped to define probiotics as they represent the microorganisms found in natural health products and specific foods. The WHO definition – “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” – has stood the test of time. There are three main keywords inside the definition – “live,” “adequate” and “benefit.”
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Although microbes that have been inactivated by heat can still provide immune system benefits, probiotics must be viable, living microbes. You also need to take enough of them – a smidgen usually won’t provide the health benefit which makes up the third, and essential part of the equation. Benefit. That’s the part that separates probiotics from pixie dust.
Many of the benefits of probiotics appear to operate through the immune system. Although many of the strains used in probiotic formulas don’t take up permanent residence in the gut, their consumption can nonetheless nudge other microorganisms and keep the immune system operating in a healthy way. It is for this reason that scientists are taking a very close look at how probiotics might one day provide answers to allergies, autoimmune diseases and cancer – or any condition where aspects of the immune system are in inflammatory overdrive, and/or deficient in other aspects.
The Future of Probiotic Science
One of the hottest areas of probiotic research is in the field of heart health. Although the mechanisms remain unclear, several studies have shown that probiotics can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Traditional areas of probiotic research, like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel and other digestive diseases continue to grow in strength.
And the application of probiotics is now of interest in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even mental health. The ability of probiotics to beneficially influence nutritional status and maintain the healthy intestinal barrier – getting the right nutrients into the bloodstream and excluding undesirable material – is emerging as yet another way in which they work. For example, oral probiotics have been shown to lower blood markers of inflammation and increase antioxidant status in humans.
In the Town Hall Medicine Microbiome Summit, an educational series on the microbiome in partnership between the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and Genuine Health – we have interviewed experts on the cutting edge of probiotic science.
These are experts who cut through the hype but also show how probiotics can improve quality of life. We have a special talk from Canadian science legend Dr. Gregor Reid (the same scientist who helped define the term as we know it today). He has witnessed a transformation of probiotic science – once dismissed as worthless, now capable of saving Canadians millions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity due to upper respiratory tract conditions, not to mention thousands of courses of unneeded antibiotics. In addition, we’ve interviewed Dr. Brett Finlay, an expert on probiotics at both ends of the life course: infancy and older adults. Gastroenterologists Dr. Leo Dieleman, Peter Gibson and Mark Silverberg discuss the latest findings in digestive diseases.
On behalf of the Town Hall Medicine Microbiome Summit, we invite you to join us on this educational journey.
Learn more at townhallmedicine.com/healthfirst