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The History of Probiotics

The history of probiotics starts over a century ago when they were discovered by Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner, Elie Metchnikoff of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Nevertheless, the history of probiotics is as old as human history, as it is closely related to the use of fermented food. 


What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the good bacteria in the body. Prebiotics are high-fiber foods that act as food for human microflora, the good bacteria. Prebiotics are used to improve the balance of these microorganisms.

Probiotics can be found in foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Several foods contain prebiotics, including whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes. Additionally, probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and available as dietary supplements. 

However, side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics to their diets. Future research may lead to advanced probiotics with greater potential to improve health. If you're considering taking supplements, check with your doctor to be sure they're right for you.


How Was Probiotics Discovered?

Microbes have been among us since time began, back when a chemical soup stirred up the first rumblings of life, yet amazingly our knowledge of them is recent. 

A Roman naturalist named Pliny the Elder used fermented milk to treat intestinal problems, demonstrating the power of probiotics. No one knew why it worked, but it was a natural remedy. 

Elie Metchnikoff observed rural Bulgarians living to very old ages despite extreme poverty and harsh climates in the late 1800s. Their life expectancy was higher than that of wealthy European populations. Metchnikoff noted that they consumed a lot of yogurt and fermented milk products in their diets. 

Modern science gave bacteria involved in fermentation a long overdue close-up with tools such as the microscope. His work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris supported his theories about the benefits of lactic acid bacteria. The modern probiotic was introduced by Metchnikoff and his colleagues through the consumption of sour milk. Bifidobacterium was also isolated from breastfed infants' gut flora by Henri Tissier at the Pasteur Institute around the same time. These bacteria, he observed, could lessen diarrhea in babies. For the next several decades, an exploration into probiotics moved slowly. On the other hand, as the new century approached, probiotics research with randomized, controlled clinical studies soared, showing both preventive and therapeutic roles for probiotics in health.  


Where Can You Find Probiotics?

Here are the top foods that are rich in probiotics:

  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Miso soup
  • Soft cheeses
  • Kefir
  • Sourdough bread
  • Acidophilus milk
  • Sour pickles 
  • Tempeh
  • Probiotics aren’t only in foods. They also come in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid forms. 

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