Jessica ter Haar, Ph.D.
IPA’s scientific director, Jessica ter Haar, Ph.D., says while many people have entered into a sort of microbe-phobia to avoid coronavirus, it’s important to note that there are still many microbes that are essential for good health.
IPA’s executive director George Parakevakos says probiotics are one of the safest supplements on the market.
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 08, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — By and large the COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the importance of proper hygiene, but could all the hand washing, antibacterial cleansing and people avoiding cause another health problem? Some experts say all this clean living could in fact make our innate immune systems weaker. Jessica ter Haar, Ph.D., the scientific director of the International Probiotics Association (IPA) says while many people have entered into a sort of microbe-phobia to avoid coronavirus, it’s important to note that there are still many microbes that are essential for good health.
“We are living in strange times. We try to prevent transmission of the virus, but end up avoiding all contact to be safe. At this point in the pandemic our bodies are challenged in new ways, but at the same time, with much less support. People are isolated, stressed, and alone, but are advised to self-isolate and practice social distancing. Many of us are living in that proverbial protected bubble that we previously condemned,” said ter Haar, who holds a doctorate in medical microbiology and probiotics from the University of Groningen. “Many microbes are good for your health. We sterilize everything to protect ourselves from the virus, but at the same time by not exposing ourselves to germs we are weakening our body’s own natural defenses to everyday threats.”
Microbes are not visible with the naked eye and our bodies are host to trillions of these microorganisms. While some microbes can make us sick, ter Haar says many keep us healthy. A microbiome refers to the microorganisms in a particular environment. The gut microbiome is a concept that’s been around for centuries but has only commonly been used in conversation since the early 2000s. The understanding of the human microbiome has been further complicated by confusion around terminology, and differences between common microbes, known as bacteria, fungi and viruses.
To clarify the confusion about microbes, it’s important to know that bacteria are single-cell organisms and most are not dangerous to humans; less than 1% of all bacteria are responsible for disease. In fact, many bacteria live in our bodies and help us stay healthy. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, which kill the bacteria or at least stop bad bacteria from multiplying. Fungi are similar to bacteria, and live in different environments, but can also cause disease. Fungal infections can become life threatening if the immune system is weak. A fungus also has many helpful qualities; in fact, the discovery of penicillin was due to a type of mold and used to produce this antibiotic. Viruses are more challenging, in that they have no cells of their own and invade healthy cells from which they start multiplying. Host cells are essential to a virus because it can’t produce without them. Many viruses are responsible for diseases and while some are harmless like a minor cold, others can be deadly and can cause serious diseases like AIDS, measles and COVID-19. It’s difficult to fight a virus with medication, which is why vaccinations are often used to try to “train” the immune system to be better prepared to fight the virus.
“By not living life, we are not getting those natural microbes that we really need to support our immune system’s defenses, metabolism, digestion and even our brain’s mood and focus,” said ter Haar. “Probiotics can be the hero in our current germophobic environment to help counter this lack of microbe exposure and stimulate our body’s own bacterial population in the gut microbiome and cells. Probiotics can literally wake up sleepy bacteria and cells and assist in protecting our health.”
Probiotics are live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. Experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and WHO created this definition of probiotics with more than 8,000 research articles indexed by PubMed. Rising to popularity quickly, probiotics have taken center stage in the past decade. George Parakevakos, IPA’s executive director, says it’s largely due to how probiotics make people feel.
“People report feeling better when they’re taking a probiotic, which makes perfect sense because when the gut is happy the rest of the body seems to be in sync,” said Parakevakos, whose nonprofit organization has been the collective voice for the probiotics industry since 2001. “There’s a ton of science that continues to evolve, but everything we’ve seen points to positive health outcomes. There are no documented adverse events and probiotics are one of the safest supplements on the market.”
A recent global analysis of clinical trials with probiotics show more than 1,600 human clinical trials have been published on probiotics in ClinicalTrials.gov and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform of WHO databases. The FDA has direct supervision over the probiotic industry and regulates all dietary supplements under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). This regulation involves many levels of FDA involvement from document reviews, audits and more. Often people confuse the regulation of dietary supplements with adverse events/reports. The FDA is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. IPA members are probiotic companies in good standing with science-based products that adhere to FDA’s safety and marketing guidelines. For more information on the science and safety behind probiotics visit: http://internationalprobiotics.org/.
About the International Probiotics Association
The International Probiotics Association (IPA) is a global non-profit organization bringing together through its membership, the probiotic sector’s stakeholders, including but not limited to, academia, scientists, healthcare professionals, consumers, industry and regulators. The IPA’s mission is to promote the safe and efficacious use of probiotics throughout the world. Holding NGO status before Codex Alimentarius, the IPA is also recognized as the unified Global Voice of Probiotics® around the world.
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