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Probiotics, Prebiotics and Nutraceuticals Are Essential to Healthy Living

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The term ‘probiotics’ comes from pro and biota, which means ‘for life’. They are live bacteria and yeasts which provide health benefits by improving the gut flora and maintaining the functionality of the digestive system. Probiotics came into light when the Nobel Laureate Elie Metchnikoff claimed that Bulgarian peasants lived longer because of their lifestyle and eating patterns which includes yoghurt.

Many bacteria and yeast are classified as probiotics such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces bouraldi. Probiotic therapy works in the treatment of various gastric disorders and also prevents and treats several infections like urinary and vaginal infections in women. Probiotics also treat some common conditions like irritable bowel movements, inflammatory bowel disease, and diarrhoea (caused by antibiotics, viruses, bacteria, and parasites). 

The concept of ‘prebiotic’ was introduced by Gibson and Roberfroid in 1995. Prebiotics are generally equated with dietary fibres. Prebiotics are non-digestible food that provides benefits to human by stimulating the growth and activity of good colon bacteria. Prebiotics include complex carbohydrates (fructo-oligosaccharides such as inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides) which help in the lowering of blood glucose levels in the body.

Prebiotics are present in whole grains, millet, raw bananas, green leafy vegetables and legumes. Prebiotics aids in the formation of probiotics, which are ‘good bacteria’ found in your gut. All prebiotics are fibres but not all fibres are prebiotics. Insoluble fibres are difficult for the body to digest and absorb passing relatively intact through the digestive system. However, it can also fuel certain kinds of bacteria in the gut flora that we need. 

Prebiotics and probiotics both sound similar, so they can sometimes be confused with each other. Meanwhile, female probiotics are live bacteria and microorganisms found throughout the female body, which feed on prebiotics (insoluble fibres).

The term ‘nutraceutical’ was coined by Stephen De Felice in 1989, which is the combination of nutrition and pharmaceutical. Nutraceutical simply means that food which provides health benefits as well is helpful in the prevention and treatment of diseases. Nutraceuticals are whole foods that are concentrated and packed in the form of capsules, pills, powders and so on.

Popular nutraceuticals include ginseng, carotenes, quercetin, lutein etc. Nutraceuticals are quite beneficial in the treatment of allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Nutraceuticals are broadly classified into various categories which include dietary supplements, functional food, medicinal food, and ‘farmaceuticals’ – The term farmaceuticals is a combination of the words ‘farm’ and ‘pharmaceuticals’. Farmaceuticals are components produced from modified agricultural crops or animals. 

The dietary supplements refer to product that contains nutrients derived from food products and are often concentrated in the form of liquid, capsule, powder or pill form. Functional food includes fortified whole foods and nutrient-enriched food that may reduce the risk of chronic heart diseases. Medicinal foods are formulated to be consumed or administered internally under the supervision of a physician and their intended use is specific dietary management of a disease or condition.

Shikha Singh is doing an MSc in Food Science and Nutrition at  Chandra Shekhar Azad University of Agriculture & Technology, Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh). 

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