Probiotics have amazing health benefits. We know that they can help you improve and regulate digestion, boost your immune system, and even improve your mood, but how did scientists discover the power of probiotics and how long have we been using probiotics to improve our lives? And, how does the history of probiotics affect our current understanding of how probiotics can keep us happy and healthy?
According to probiotic expert and microbiologist Kiran Krishnan, our understanding of probiotics begins with Elie Metchnikoff, the scientist known as the “father of natural immunity” and recipient of the 1908 Nobel Prize in Medicine. He spent many years studying the immune system and how it interacts with microbes. Through that research, he formed a theory that certain gut microbes in fermented foods like yogurt might actually help people live longer. Metchnikoff was also (correctly) convinced that we can replace the “bad” microbes in our guts with beneficial “good” microbes, which help improve our health.
In the early part of the 20th century, more researchers were discovering that certain strains of gut microbes could affect overall health. Pediatrician Henry Tissier found that healthy children had more Bifidobacterium strains in their guts than children who had diarrhea. Other scientists showed that the bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilus grew very well in the human gut and could help alleviate constipation.
Later research proved how important gut microbes are to our health by studying what happens when we lose them. Rosalie Stillwell and Daniel Lilly looked at the effects of medical treatments that kill off our gut flora, like the use of antibiotics or radiation. They also were the first to describe probiotics as microorganisms that help another organism, such as a person, grow and thrive. Their research helped us understand how important it is to keep good microbes in our guts to stay healthy.
We now know that our gut flora are incredibly important to our overall health, and more research is being done every day that shows exactly why we need to nurture our gut microbes. In the past decade, there has been an explosion of research into the microbes that live in our bodies, thanks in part to the National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project.
Scientists now understand that the microbes that live in us and on us can have a huge impact on how we feel and how often we get sick, thanks in part to research that started over a century ago. We know that we need to keep the right microbes in our guts and keep them healthy so we can keep our digestive systems working like clockwork. And, we know that those healthy microbes also help us maintain a healthy weight, help us feel calmer and happier, and help keep us from getting sick during cold and flu season.
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