What is a Probiotic?

Peter R. Rothschild, M.D., Ph. D.

Copyright / 1983


There are a number of prerequisites for the maintenance of good health, with adequate amounts of bacteria being one of the most important. The body needs healthy food to provide adequate amounts of nutrients vital to the myriad of functions of the body; the food’s inherent enzyme structures must be intact; adequate amounts of essentials nutrients must be absorbed and utilized by the body; the body must effectively eliminate the metabolic waste associated with the utilization of these nutrients; and toxins and harmful bacteria must be minimized or eliminated by the body as they develop in the digestive tract.  


Medical science knows that the health and efficiency of the digestive system depends extensively on the complex interaction and balance of the intestinal ecological system comprised of approximately 400 different types of “friendly” and “unfriendly” bacteria.    

The “friendly” organisms are known as Probiotics. The word “Probiotic” was originally coined to describe bacteria which are the opposite of “antibiotic” because they are secreted by one organism and stimulate the growth of another. Subsequently, other definitions have been put forward, but it is generally accepted that probiotics are live bacteria which, when fed to humans, have a beneficial effect on people’s health by improving their intestinal microbial balance.    

In addition to breaking down and helping to remove food residues, it has been established that probiotics:

•    Help neutralize toxins in the intestine.

•    Directly suppress specific groups of unfriendly microorganisms by producing antibacterial and perhaps antifungal substances.

•    Alter the metabolism of unfriendly microorganisms without affecting other friendly microorganisms present in the intestine.

•    Compete with pathogens for adhesion receptor sites on the intestinal wall. These receptor sites are often essential for the successful    

     colonization of the intestine by pathogenic organisms.

•    Stimulate the immune system by increasing antibody levels and improving macrophage activity.

•    Help the body resist infections, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract.

•    Act as the main contributors to the effective elimination of waste material from the small intestine and colon.  Approximately 70% of a healthy      adult’s stool is composed of bacteria.   

The intestinal tract is a complex system in which serious consequences can result when the delicate interrelationships between different microorganisms are significantly damaged. This system can be adversely affected by stress, antibiotics, contaminated food, environmental hazards such as pesticides and other chemicals. Even excessive hygiene can interfere with a healthy ecology.


During stressful conditions, the established intestinal flora can be drastically reduced, resulting in an increase in pathogenic activity. This can occur in as little as 30 minutes. A common occurrence is the rapid reduction of lactobacilli bacteria and a corresponding increase in coli forms that manifest as diarrhea.

Antibiotic Therapy:

The destruction of the intestinal flora by antibiotics not only can produce chronic diarrhea, but is the cause of many serious intestinal disorders. The therapeutic value of probiotics may be enhanced by immediate usage following antibiotic therapy in order to help restore the natural balance.

Environmental Hazards:

Pesticides, herbicides, certain foods additives, medical drugs, leisure drugs and other chemicals frequently ingested with food, water and/or polluted air are recognized by the body as foreign or toxic substances, resulting in an additional strain on the probiotic shield and the rest of the immune system. Eating cooked food or ingesting food substitutes which also lack natural enzyme groups results in an immune; response called digestive leukocytosis. This rapid increase in the white blood cell count is the body’s response to infection and/or the ingestion of poison.

Excessive Hygiene:

Excessive use of disinfectants in an attempt to maintain sterile conditions, especially around infants and children, can actually impair the body’s ability to acquire and maintain the appropriate bacteria from its surrounding necessary for a balanced intestinal flora. Where excessive hygiene can prevent the natural acquisition of a protective flora, oral antibiotics suppress and can all but totally eliminate intestinal flora activity after it has been acquired.


It appears that the most prevalent cause of constipation is a lack of adequate levels of intestinal micro flora. Low fiber diets contribute significantly to low micro flora levels. Certain components of plant cells afford many types of microorganisms their primary source of food and help insure higher level of these helpful organisms.

Potency and consistency:

A major problem with the most probiotic supplements on the market today is poor quality control. Some manufacturers claim to have viable organisms of one strain present in large numbers, only to have low numbers of additional strains. Some products claim to have one specific species of microorganisms while, in fact, they have a totally different species. Many probiotic products list their potency at “the time of packaging”, instead of according to the actual projected shelf life. The potency of some products can diminish as much as 85% within one month after packaging, even under refrigeration.

Characteristic of an effective probiotic:

1.    Contain multiple strains of micro flora which are viable primary strains (SBO Probiotics Consortia)  harvested in their natural food source    

       and are capable of exerting a beneficial effect on the person ingesting them, e.g. increased resistance to disease.

2.    Be non-pathogenic and non-toxic.

3.    Be present as viable organisms, preferably in large numbers, even though the minimum effective dose is not known.

4.    Be capable of surviving and metabolizing in the intestinal environment, i.e. resistant to pH and organic acids and resistant to other    

       antibacterial influences in the intestine.

5.    Be stable and capable of remaining viable for at least two years.

6.    Not have to be kept under refrigeration.

7.    Be cost effective.

Scientific evidence suggests that even under ideal conditions and with careful strains based on epithelial adhesion and growth rate, the effects produced by the micro flora are of a limited duration. Studies have shown that following the cessation of probiotic supplementation, substantial declines or total disappearance of activity in the micro flora population occurs within 7 to 30 days.

It would seem that the best method of maintaining adequate levels of friendly flora in the intestine would be by continuous daily supplementation.

This would insure that the probiotic was present in the intestine in large numbers and able to metabolize and produce its probiotic effects.


There are 72 different Culture Banks in the world today providing over 5,000 different sub-species of micro flora cultures to hundreds of manufacturers. Most probiotic products on the market can be categorized into four types:

1.    Non-viable

2.    Freeze-dried: These will die rapidly if not kept very cool or refrigerated. They are not heat stable. They have a short shelf life, usually not    

       exceeding six months under ideal conditions.

3.    Fermentation: Produced through a fermentation process. They typically have low potencies, frequently contain species of organisms    

       different from those labeled, and usually have a three to four month shelf life after packaging.

4.    Viable primary cultures or SBO Probiotics Consortia: These have a viable, specific sub-species of primary bacteria, high implant levels, and        a guaranteed long shelf life ( two or more years) and potency.

There is ample scientific evidence that the complex microbial flora present in the gastrointestinal tract of humans is effective in providing resistance to disease. The composition of this protective flora can be altered by dietary and environmental influences, contributing to people’s susceptibility it disease and/or reducing the efficiency of the body’s food utilization. Daily Probiotic supplementation can help re-establish the natural condition which nature designed the body’s internal environment to maintain in the intestine and which has been disrupted by modern trends in food preparation, processing and preservation, excessive hygienic practices, and modern approaches to nutrition and disease therapy. These are all areas where intestinal flora can be altered destroying the health and balance of the natural environment of the body. The administration of an effective probiotic can support the body in restoring its natural intestinal micro flora, enabling a body to enjoy the benefits of a healthy and vitally competent intestine.

 UPDATE/2002:  To date, the Author can only identify one SBO Probiotics Consortia formula that fully meets the characteristics set forth in this article.  This, 30 plus year old, formula has been marketed under the following brand names:  Earth Flora, Nature Earth, and Nature’s Biotics.  The current manufacturer is of this formula is:  Life Science Products, Inc.**This formula is unusual in several respects. It meets all of the preferred criteria for an effective Probiotic. A proprietary process for protecting all of the organisms prior to their primary growth stage assures extremely long shelf life at room temperatures.Normal biological assay techniques will not enumerate this product’s viability, and a special laboratory protocol is necessary to determine its actual potency.It contains several specific species of micro flora. The specific strains of these species are a trade secret. The host medium of minerals and trace elements help provide nourishment to the flora and encourage maximum proliferation of the species. Full potency of the product is guaranteed for duration of five years at room temperature after date of packaging. This product is not affected by stomach acid and is activated in the moist alkaline environment of the intestine. And, it does not need to be refrigerated.

** Update 2013:  Since the writing of this article, this product has gone by a number of brand names, such as, Natur Earth, Earth Flora, Nature’s Biotics and the most current brand name (2013) is BODY BIOTICS™ by Body Biotics Intl., Corp., formerly Life Science Products, Inc.