Probiotic milk is milk that promotes the growth of helpful bacteria in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Human beings have used it for more than 2,000 years. Probiotic milk works by introducing bacteria into the small intestine. It has some health benefits and may be able to improve certain conditions of the small intestine. Modern probiotic milk is prepared by a specialized process that makes it as safe as regular, pasteurized milk.
Probiotic or fermented milk has existed as a method for regulating GI tract health since the time of the Roman Empire. Though they did not know the reason, ancient Romans used it to treat flatulence. Only in the 20th century did scientists discover the role of various bacteria in the digestion of food. These helpful bacteria were isolated, and their selective inclusion in certain foods has been a part of the world's diet for more than 50 years.
Many microorganisms live within the human body, some of which are very harmful. Probiotics are those organisms that help humans keep healthy. Many exist in the small intestine, helping the body digest its food. For example, those with lactose intolerance lack lactase, the enzyme necessary to properly digest milk. The addition of probiotics into milk can make up for this enzyme deficiency, allowing more people to gain the nutritional benefit of milk without becoming sick as a result.
Outside of general health benefits, studies have suggested that probiotic milk can treat certain conditions both related and unrelated to the GI tract. Probiotic milk with lactic acid bacteria has been shown to cause a small drop in blood pressure. A more significant effect has been shown within the bowel of those with inflammatory bowel disease. Though not fully understood, probiotics have the ability to reduce the bowel's hypersensitivity response. With any medical condition, though, it is advised that a person see his or her doctor, as the underlying cause may require treatment through medication or surgery.
There is no safety risk with probiotic milk, making is appropriate for all ages. Like all milk, probiotic milk is first pasteurized to kill all bacteria and viruses. After the milk is sterile, lactic acid bacteria and/or bifidobacteria are added. The bacteria are allowed time to incubate within the milk before bottling and shipment to stores. Probiotic milk has an identical lifespan to normal milk, and the carton or bottle will always indicate that it is probiotic.