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Bacteria boost

Most people begin their day with tea or coffee, but the Babbars in Sainik Farm begin theirs with shots of live bacteria, writes Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 22, 2008 22:16 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Most people begin their day with tea or coffee, but the Babbars in Sainik Farm begin theirs with shots of live bacteria. They have a bottle each of Yakult’s fermented probiotic drink that contains billions of beneficial bacteria — lactobacillus casei Shirota — to boost their gut microflora and overall health.

“All of us, including my son Ishaan, 13, daughter Rhea, 11, and parents, have been having probiotics every day ever since we can remember. We’ve stayed overseas a lot and now that my kids and I are back in India, I find it keeps the whole body in order and helps them cope with pollution,” says Monisha Babbar, who came back to Delhi from Zimbabwe three months ago.

Why Yakult? “We all like the taste. The other probiotic dahis I’ve had are terrible, but then it’s a matter of taste. My husband, who is now in Africa, loves them,” says Babbar.

The idea of swallowing live bacteria may sound disgusting to some, but bear in mind that these bacteria are found naturally in foods such as dahi, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, some juices and soy drinks. Probiotics are also considered safe because these bacteria are already a part of gut flora and aid digestion and nutrient absorption. Experts say over 100 trillion microorganisms from over 500 different species inhabit a normal, healthy gut.

There is growing evidence that probiotics taken as foods or supplements help treat and prevent illness. Probiotics have been found to enhance immune functions, improve bowel movement and restore healthy intestinal microflora by raising the amount of good bacteria. “There is some evidence that probiotics may help treat symptoms of diarrhoea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics and treat irritable bowel syndrome,” says biomed expert Dr Takeda Yoshifumi from the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata.

Studies have also linked probiotics with the treatment of vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections, shortening the duration of intestinal infections, preventing and treating inflammation following colon surgery, and preventing eczema and some allergies in children.

With a staggering array of probiotic-laced drinks and foods to choose from, most people usually arrive at a brand by trial and error. Vikram Jain, 36, cannot do without his carton of Mother Dairy probiotic dahi for dinner, while the Khans prefer fermented milk as part of their breakfast. “We have it every day and I think it has made a difference, with the family having fewer bouts of indigestion, colds and cough than before,” says Radhika Khan, who has it with her son Sohail, 14, and daughter Saher, 18.

“I’m not addicted to vitamins and other health products and Googled to find out about probiotics before taking it. It is the only health supplement we have now,” says Khan.

Most probiotics in India are sold as dietary supplements and do not undergo the testing and approval processes that medicines do. With food labeling laws coming in place from next year, companies will clearly have to mention the live bacteria used and ensure the cold-chain —which insures the active agent remains viable and does not die, losing its potency in the process — is not broken.

“The health benefits of probiotics are specific to the stains of bacteria used and there is no guarantee that the types of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you want to take them for. It’s best to ensure you buy a brand that clearly states the strain used and to get it from a shop that stores its products at the right temperature,” warns Yoshifumi.