The human body is inhabited by millions of bacteria that are immensely important to human health. They live mainly in the lower gastro intestinal tract, but also on the skin, in the lungs and other parts of the body.

The Intestinal microflora is mainly made up of ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria and yeasts that live in the small and large intestines, fulfilling a variety of important functions.However pathogenic(harmful) bacteria also inhabit the intestinal tract and compete with the beneficial bacteria for space. Under certain conditions the balance of friendly bacteria to unfriendly bacteria becomes disrupted and health problems could begin to occur.

Various factors can reduce the number of friendly bacteria. This allows the pathogenic bacteria to increase and cause problems.  These factors include:

  • Antibiotic treatment
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Bacterial and parasitic infections
  • Diarrhoea
  • Certain pharmaceutical medications

A PROBIOTIC supplement can re-populate the intestines with friendly microorganisms to solve this.

According to the 2001 definition by the World Health Organisation (WHO), probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

Symptoms of this imbalance include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Abdominal bloating and discomfort
  • Colic (in infants)


The health benefits of probiotic supplements include:

  • Aiding digestion and improving nutrient absorption.
  • Preventing growth of pathogens by competitive inhibition. Probiotics re-colonise the gut with friendly bacteria and are used as support in antibiotic induced diarrhoea, infantile and travellers’ diarrhoea, food poisoning as well as for general improvement of gut function and reducing constipation.
  • Immune system enhancement. Studies have shown that probiotic supplements boost the ability of the immune system to attack and destroy pathogenic micro-organisms
  • Allergy prevention. Certain studies have shown that probiotics in infants stimulate the immune system and train it to respond correctly to foreign molecules in the body; this helps in allergy prevention.

The full extent to which people’s health problems might be helped by taking probiotics, has not yet been realised. Many promising lines of research are looking into a variety of potential future beneficial uses for these products.

Ruth Coetzee