Humans are made up of a larger quantity of bacteria than cells. These bacteria can be both good or bad and a delicate balance between both is crucial to sustainable health. Probiotics fall in the “good” category and are defined by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Nevertheless there is still considerable research required to understand and assess these relatively mysterious microorganisms.

The microorganisms considered “probiotic” consist of several strains that have very specific effects including combatting respiratory illness or promoting bowel movements. The jury is still out on crucial questions such as which probiotic bacteria are beneficial in what situations, how many are needed for adequate consumption or even how they fend off the bad bacteria in the human body. These questions however haven’t held back food manufacturers from marketing probiotics and raising an industry projected to reach a magnitude of $50 billion globally by 2022. As such, Health Canada has established several regulations that limit corporate health claims to simply state that probiotics maintain good gut health. As well, companies are required to have at least a billion bacteria per serving for a product to be considered probiotic.

Research on Probiotics has been aggressive and churning out health benefits constantly, especially with companies like Danone funneling $313 million to its cause. A major advantage to probiotics includes their ability to replenish good bacteria in the body. This is important when taking medications such as antibiotics that tend to eradicate much of the beneficial bacteria along with the bad. This decrease largely causes digestive side effects such as diarrhea, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, etc. Probiotics can treat much of these symptoms by maintaining the necessary balance of good and bad bacteria.

Another paramount facet to Probiotics is their ability to protect the immune system. According to Jamieson Vitamins, they help control immune response, increase antibody activity and inhibit growth of bad bacteria and yeast such as salmonella. According to WebMD, they have a collectively beneficial affect on the human gut, especially through their ability to affect nerves that control gut movement in order to smoothly transport food through the digestive tract. In addition to these well-established advantages, Probiotics do have some growing support for being useful in a wide range of health benefits including oral health, preventing allergies and colds, as well as urinary and vaginal health.

Probiotics are found primarily in dairy and fermented products such as yogurt, milk and cheese, including some supplements. The most researched probiotics that have been considerably proven to have health benefits include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The former is quite common and helps with diarrhea while the latter is commonly used for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

It is not yet fully clear the number of probiotics an individual should consume, although a regular and long-term use is recommended for a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive system. It is also quite safe to consume probiotics for most individuals although research has been scarce for infants or young babies, individuals with weak immune systems and elderly individuals. Probiotics already resemble much of the bacteria in the digestive system and have been used extensively through history, especially in Paris where sour milk was used as treatment to prevent aging. Nevertheless, it is not strictly compulsory to consume probiotics as one can still have a healthy digestive system by following a normal healthy diet.