Probiotics are healthy micro-organisms beneficial to the digestive tract of their host. It may be a new concept today, but good bacteria has been around since life began and discovered in the 1800’s.
Thousands of years ago, the Romans would ferment milk to treat intestinal problems and cultures around the world have been fermenting food for the health benefits such as saurkraut and kimchi. Sourdough bread, fermented flour, is a staple among many nations and an artisan skill.
Thanks to the invention of the microscope, these micro life forms were discovered and cataloged. Ilya Mechnikov, a Russian biologist, discovered a rural people in Bulgaria were significantly outliving their wealthier European counterparts. These Bulgarians were living in extreme poverty and difficult climates, yet lived to very old ages. Mechnikov noted their diets were rich in yogurt and other fermented milk products.
At the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Mechnikov began fermenting and drinking sour milk to build his own gut flora. His work supported his theories on the benefit of good bacteria and named a strain Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. Probiotics was born.
Because of his work, another important discovery was made by Henri Tissier who isolated a bacteria that could lessen diarrhea in babies, Bifidobeacterium.