Lactic ferments and probiotics: here are the differences

Which bacteria are really good for your health

By Martina Lombardo

Lactic ferments and probiotics are often considered synonymous. In reality, probiotics are milk enzymes, but not all milk enzymes are probiotics. Let’s find out what the differences are between these two micro-organisms!

What are milk enzymes?

The term ‘lactic acid bacteria’ generally refers to a group of lactic acid bacteria involved in the fermentation of milk and capable of metabolising lactose. There are many different micro-organisms that can process lactose, the sugar contained in milk. However, only some of them are able to carry out processes that are beneficial to humans.

The best milk enzymes for the human intestine are those that can convert lactose into lactic acid, a chemical compound that plays an important role in several biochemical processes. The micro-organisms that are beneficial to the body have specific resistance properties: resistance to the gastric barrier, to antibiotic action and to temperature. They also have important functions such as immune, rebalancing and nutritional.

A particular group of bacteria beneficial to humans has the ability to arrive alive in the intestine and reproduce: they are the active milk enzymes. These particular microorganisms are also known as probiotics.

What are probiotics

According to the definition of the WHO (World Health Organisation), probiotics are “living organisms that, when administered in adequate quantities, provide health benefits to the body”.

The term probiotic is derived from the Greek word ‘pro-bios’, meaning ‘pro-life’, and thus indicates specific strains of lactic acid bacteria, living and active, which act to protect the host organism by strengthening the intestinal ecosystem.

These micro-organisms are able to resist the action of gastric juice and, by settling in the intestine, fight the proliferation of harmful germs. Their presence improves the quality of the intestinal flora, ensuring its balance, and has a positive effect on the immune system.

Now that we know what milk enzymes are and what probiotics are, let’s look at the differences.

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What are the differences between milk enzymes and probiotics?

The two terms are often used synonymously, as both milk enzymes and probiotics are bacterial micro-organisms.

Probiotics are milk enzymes, but not all milk enzymes are probiotics. In fact, probiotics are a specific type of live lactic acid bacteria: real micro-organisms that must remain active from the mouth, via the stomach, to the intestines and constantly multiply in order to obtain physiological and intestinal benefits. In contrast, lactic acid bacteria, once ingested, do not survive the passage through the stomach.

Probiotics perform metabolic activities that benefit humans: by staying alive, they become an integral part of the intestinal microbiota and interact with the cells of the intestinal epithelium. As lactic ferments, they are also able to chemically transform lactose, but only their probiotic properties allow them to perform processes that are truly beneficial to humans.

Unlike probiotics, milk enzymes are not present in the intestinal microbiota and therefore do not have any beneficial properties for the body. In addition, milk enzymes transform sugars into lactic acid in the food in which they are found. Probiotics, on the other hand, perform their metabolic functions directly in the intestine, thereby promoting the balance of intestinal flora.

A lactic ferment may or may not therefore be probiotic depending on whether or not, after fermenting sugars and producing lactic acid, it is able to be active in the intestine.

The benefits of live cultures

Only live lactic acid bacteria can live inside the intestine, surviving the body’s natural barriers, and are able to positively colonise the intestinal mucosa. They are naturally part of the intestinal microbiota, i.e. the set of bacterial microorganisms that are hosted in our intestines. These bacteria play a vital role in our health, which is why it is important to seek treatment when they become ill and to repopulate the microbiota when necessary.

Probiotics are bacteria that bring numerous benefits to our health as they are naturally present in the composition of the intestinal microflora, resist low pH and gastric juices present and are able to multiply within the intestine. They are therefore essential for maintaining a balanced intestinal flora.

Good gut function also affects the immune system: active milk enzymes can improve the immune system, inhibiting inflammation and activating defence mechanisms.

In addition, probiotics also play an important role in the oral cavity, which has its own bacterial flora and needs to maintain its balance in order to prevent classic mouth and tooth diseases such as tooth decay and gum inflammation.

Milk enzymes and probiotics, although derived from the same family of lactic acid bacteria, show important differences. Only probiotics, which are already present in the human intestinal microbiota, are of real benefit to the organism in which they are housed.

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