As you sniff your bottle of probiotics, or you ponder the process of making yogurt, you’re probably wondering: who thought of this stuff? Who in the world thought to get bacteria and see if certain kinds are good for you? Who does that?
Pliny the Elder does, actually. Or, did.
This man was alive in Ancient Rome around 70 AC. He was a naturalist and a healer, using herbs and natural remedies to cure the sick. He eventually found out that fermented milk could help cure an upset stomach, and began administering that to his patients when they complained of a stomach-related illness.
But it didn’t stop there!
Although we can accredit Pliny with the original application of probiotics, it wasn’t until the 1800’s when Russian scientist Ilya Mechnikov saw that lower-class people were out-living the nobility; he attributed this to their consumption of yogurt and fermented food. After further research, Mechnikov and his colleagues began drinking fermented milk, creating the first official “probiotic” which means “for life.”
How much life did probiotics influence?
The trend caught on, mostly in Asian and European countries, and continued to do so throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In Asia, fermented milkshakes were a specialty; in France, cheese was a delicacy that could also be used for medicinal reasons; and in Great Britain, Activia Yogurt became popular before settling in the US.
Since then, probiotics have made their way around the world, coming in many different forms, such as fermented milkshakes, supplements, and yogurt. As they are still being researched and tested, many new functions and applications of them are being discovered, such as being used to treat anything from indigestion to autism. Some research also indicates that probiotics can help fight diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. One thing is known about this miracle cure: when it comes to probiotics, there are Pliny of uses to go around.