Probiotics was derived from Greek which literally means “for life”. The term was first coined in 1965 to depict substances produced by a certain microorganism to stimulate the growth of another microorganism. Current definition of probiotics was made by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO), referring to “living microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host”. To quality as a probiotic, four characteristics must be found in a microorganism: reside in human body, survive after ingestion, benefit the host, and is safely consumed. Gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the most common place for probiotics to live, but there are several other locations, such as mouth, vagina, urinary tract, skin and lungs, suitable for some probiotics.
Classification of probiotics is complex with distinct rationales. Probiotics products can be sorted to single strain probiotics and multi strain probiotics. Under single strain probiotics, groups are classified based on genus that probiotics belong to. Scientific name of probiotics is composed of two parts: genus (italicized) and species (italicized). Sometimes the strain name is included after species. Genus classification of probiotics is shown on the right.
Bifidobacterium is an anaerobic, Gram-positive, nonspore-forming, pleomorphic rod bacteria. One of the common characteristics that Bifidobacterium genus share is that they produce lactic and acetic acids as by-products of glucose utilization. Combined with Lactobacillus species and the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, Bifidobacterium seem to reduce the adverse effects of Helicobacter therapy. In addition, Bifidobacterium infantis in combination with Lactobacillus acidophilus seems to reduce the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and NEC-associated mortality in critically ill neonates.
Lactobacillus is a group of lactic acid–producing Gram-positive rod bacteria that are obligate and facultative anaerobes in the human gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts. The name Lactobacillus is due to the bacterium's ability to produce lactic acid. Lactobacillus species provides nutritional benefits including inducing growth factors and increasing the bioavailability of minerals. Lactobacilli also stabilize the mucosal barrier and decrease intestinal permeability.
Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are most common groups with diverse members. Lactococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus, Saccharomyces, and Leuconostoc are not probiotics groups as huge as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, but they also contribute to various industries, such as production of fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products.
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