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Probiotics: A gut-check on bacterial health

A fascinating, if disconcerting, fact: More than 100 trillion so-called good bacteria thrive in or on the human body. A sizable chunk of them maintain residence in the human digestive tract. Probiotics, live microorganisms that benefit their human host, are among these beneficial bacteria.

Probiotics are also found in foods and supplements, and when consumed they change how the immune system responds to "bad" bacteria.

"Probiotics seem to enhance the intestinal flora and promote a healthier gut environment," says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, a registered dietitian in Sacramento and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Scientists don't know exactly how probiotics work, but they may also produce anti-microbial substances that destroy harmful microorganisms and stimulate an immune response.

Even though probiotics-infused foods may seem like a modern phenomenon, the idea that consuming living microorganisms could improve health was introduced more than 100 years ago. That's when Elie Metchnikoff, a Nobel-winning scientist, proposed the idea in his book, "The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies."
 
 

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