Probiotics: How to choose a product? (Proceedings)
For decades, scientific research has focused on fighting "bad" bacteria in the body, primarily through the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are often effective at killing "bad" bacteria in the body, but unfortunately they are not without problems. For example, antibiotics are not selective in the kinds of bacteria they kill; "good" bacteria are killed along with "bad" bacteria. In addition, "bad" bacteria are becoming "super" bugs and developing resistance to many commonly prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics can also cause numerous adverse side effects.
More recently, there has been a shift away from fighting "bad" bacteria in the body in favor of promoting "good" bacteria primarily through the use of the "biotics" which include prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics. Promoting beneficial bacteria in the GI tract by using "biotics" offer several distinct advantages over the use of antibiotics to kill bacteria. The "biotics" can be incorporated into the diet and provide a proactive way of maintaining health on a daily basis, whereas antibiotics are generally used only after a problem has occurred. "Biotics" can be used on a long-term basis without encountering the side effects seen with antibiotics, and "biotics" are viewed as a more holistic approach to maintaining health in the animal than are antibiotics. A healthy bacterial flora in the intestines is important for not only health of the GI tract, but overall health. "Biotics" enhance and support a healthy bacterial population, whereas antibiotics disrupt this balance. The bacterial flora in the gut are so important that they have a collective metabolic activity equal to a virtual organ within an organ and have been referred to as a forgotten organ.
What are probiotics?Probiotics are defined as (a) live (viable) beneficial bacteria, which upon ingestion in sufficient numbers (b) exert health benefits to the host. It is very important that both parts of the definition are met in order to call a product a probiotic.
The gastrointestinal tract in dogs and cats
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract in dogs and cats is a very dynamic organ that performs numerous functions essential for health and well-being. Critical roles of the GI tract include digestion and absorption of nutrients and elimination of potentially harmful substances and waste products. In addition, the GI tract is the most voluminous immunologic organ in the body and also functions as an endocrine organ.
Companion animals have extensive gastrointestinal bacterial ecosystems. For example, the mammalian digestive system contains more than 1,000 different species of bacteria and comprises approximately 95% of the cells in the gastrointestinal tract. The balance between the beneficial bacteria and the pathogenic bacteria have an effect on overall health of the animal. For example, enteric bacteria contribute significantly to the function of the host's immune system as well as resistance to infectious disease. Furthermore, changes in the composition of the intestinal flora can be associated with disease and may, in some cases, be a precipitating factor. "Biotics" can be used to maintain a healthy gut flora.
Important characteristics of successful probiotics
Probiotics are a rapidly emerging area in veterinary medicine, and more and more companies are selling products labeled as probiotics for dogs and cats. However, not all these products meet the definition of probiotics. How does the practitioner know whether a product is worth spending their client's money on it? In addition to meeting the criteria for the definition of a probiotics, any company selling a probiotic product for dogs or cats should be able to document that their product meets the characteristics of a successful probiotic which include:
1. Stability of the product