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The History of Probiotics

Probiotics have been around for thousands of years, but we seem to just now be cracking the code.

It all started when farmers began storing their food. In Asia, fisherman would catch large amounts fish at once, so they began wrapping the fish in rice for storage (sound familiar?). They found that this preserved the fish much longer, not realizing until later that it was because of a certain bacteria in the rice.

By the early 1900s, a Russian researcher conducted a study that looked at the association between longevity and, not the yogurt, but the type of bacteria in the yogurt that people would consume. The results were astounding, and it was concluded that there is actually such thing as “good bacteria.”

Probiotics phased in and out of popularity in Europe from the 50’s until about the 80’s, but back in the US, the doctors’ answers to everything were still revolved around antibiotics. It wasn't until about the 1990’s when people began realizing that not only were people establishing resistance to these antibiotics, but the antibiotics were also killing off much of the good bacteria in our gut. Thus, the emergence of probiotics was born in the US.

Today, the word probiotics is defined as a “microorganism that is introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities.” They have to be A. alive (a bacteria or a yeast) B. used in the right amount and C. have some sort of health benefit. This can be found in several products around the grocery store such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, Kombucha, and more. They are also sold as supplements; however, many support the idea that fermented and cultured foods containing probiotics are more nutritionally dense than supplements.

Further research has indicated that probiotics help with IBS, travelers diarrhea, preventing side effects of antibiotics, vaginal health, and can aid in weight loss.

Whether taking a probiotic supplement or consuming new probiotic foods/drink, it is important to be cognizant of the type and amount of product you are consuming and be aware of how you feel while consuming it. It it always a good idea to do high quality research and/or consult with your primary care physician prior to consuming a new product.

Stephanie Spoto, CSCS

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