Prebiotics and Probiotics are creeping into our hobby.

John D Hirsch MD

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Life without bacteria would be very different. All animals have critical commensal relationships with bacteria and yeasts. Of importance to this discussion are those bacteria and yeast organisms that exist in the gut. The animal host provides a safe home and continuous source of food. In exchange, bacteria/yeast assist with digestion but also manufacture vitamins and other molecules important to the health of our immune system to name a few. The number and species of microorganisms varies widely from host to host and is species specific. Those good bacteria exist in a stable neighborhood, typically the colon. The host usually extracts the easily digestible nutrients like proteins, simple sugars, and fats and passes to the bacteria and yeast the job of aiding in the digestion of mostly complex carbohydrates (fiber, starches, chitinous exoskeletons, and cellulose) where the yield is lower and more time and energy consuming. They know their neighbors and generally get along, each doing its thing. Their population is large as almost 50% of ?poop? are these single cell organisms. That ?poop?/ waste is eaten by zooplankton which begins the process of moving those same organisms back up the food chain. Finally, the gut flora is continually renewed as the host consumes ?gut loaded? natural food which includes the content of their digestive tract. Some of the bacteria thrive and others likely not. But the neighborhood remains stable. That harmony is critical for good health.

Probiotics are either live cultures or freeze dried cultures of bacteria and yeast. They are derived from fermented cow?s milk. During adverse survival conditions many single cell organisms can form spores which survive extended periods of time; so freeze drying is an acceptable method of delivery. The assumption is that a healthy bacterial population will out compete bad or pathologic bacteria and either prevent or cure diseases. Worldwide it is a $30 Billion business, but the US market is not in the top 5 for consumption. Number 1 is actually western Europe. A majority of the cultures feature two main types of bacteria. One group aids in the digestion of lactose (lactobacillus) and the other are fermenters similar to the process of making alcoholic beverages.

The advocates or both prebiotics and probiotics claim a variety of health benefits from regular use including better bowel function to cures for many common and exotic diseases. True scientific validation of any of these claims is at best a work in progress. None the less, it is a part of the nutritional lexicon for humans and now likely for our reef ecosystems.

Prebiotics are starches and fibers which are ?food? for the bacteria and yeast in your gut. The chitinous exoskeleton of those all-natural foods we feed our fish serve exactly the same purpose. Doesn?t that beg the question, for the sake of colon health, that your all natural varied diet should contain foods for the ?good bacteria? and that can be accomplished by adding both cellulose from macro algae and chitinous exoskeletons from shrimp, krill, ocean plankton, etc.?

Finally, adding probiotics likely derived from cow?s milk is not natural for marine organisms. Are those microorganisms the right ones. There is no ?milk? in the ocean and hence no lactose intolerance, either. Maybe they won?t survive but what if they do? Will adding bacteria from a terrestrial source alter the intestinal gut flora positively, or perhaps negatively? I guess a third option is that it has no effect and is a waste of money. These are not nutrients but living organisms that would be very difficult to eradicate. If you just feed a varied all natural diet, you will do the trick that mother nature and evolution have perfected for centuries.

Just a thought!

What are your thoughts?

Doc
 


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