If you are a health-conscious person, you’ll have found it hard to ignore the rise of probiotics in popular culture. Probiotics are living microorganisms that can survive in the human gut. They improve gut health and can have a positive impact on the overall mental health and immune health of people that consume them in adequate amounts. There are large quantities of probiotic microbes in tangy foods such as kimchi, yogurt, and kefir. They can also be consumed in the form of supplements. 

While you might be aware of the current popularity of probiotics, most people are less aware of their history and impact on human culture. Here is a very brief rundown. 

Ancient Probiotics 

Probiotics have been present in human foods for thousands of years. People have been consuming (and reaping the benefits of) these microorganisms for at least 6000 years – when yogurt was first created. Some ancient figures recognized the potential health benefits of fermented foods that contained probiotics. The first-century Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder suggested that his followers should drink fermented milk in order to cure intestinal problems. While Pliny would not have had any idea about microbial cultures, he would have seen evidence of people recovering from gut problems after drinking fermented foods that certainly contained probiotics, whether he knew it or not. These days, companies like Jetson Health produce tailored probiotic supplements – a far cry from the guesswork that inspired early probiotic consumption. 

The Discovery of Probiotics 

Ilya Ilyich Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist, is often credited with discovering probiotics. In the early 20th century, Metchnikoff became interested in the phenomenon of longevity among Bulgarian peasants, who consumed large quantities of fermented milk. He hypothesized that the lactic acid bacteria in the fermented milk were responsible for their longevity and began studying their effects on the human body. Metchnikoff conducted experiments with animals and humans, demonstrating that certain bacteria in the gut could improve digestion and immune function. He believed that consuming fermented foods containing these bacteria could lead to improved health and longevity. Metchnikoff’s work paved the way for the development of probiotics, although the term “probiotic” was not coined until the 1960s. Metchnikoff was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1908 for his work on immunity, including his research on lactic acid bacteria. 

Recognition And Research

In 2001, a huge milestone was reached when the World Health Organization recognized and categorized probiotics officially. The recognition of probiotics by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2001 was due to the growing body of scientific evidence supporting their health benefits. The WHO’s definition of probiotics as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” was based on a consensus of experts in the field. The decision to recognize probiotics was also influenced by the increasing availability and popularity of probiotic-containing products, such as yogurts and supplements, and the need for standardized definitions and regulations. The WHO’s recognition of probiotics helped to raise awareness of their potential health benefits and promote further research into their effects on human health.