The human body plays host to trillions of bacteria. They live on your skin, in your mouth, in your gut and, if you're a woman, in your vagina.
Over the centuries, public perception of bacteria has been fairly negative. From the infamous Black Death Plague in the 16th century to modern-day pathogenic strains of E.coli, bacteria have been associated with disease and death.
Widespread health issues have also been more front and centre in even more recent times, as Covid-19 - though a virus, not a bacteria - has completely changed the way we interact with people and surfaces.
But "good bacteria" do exist to benefit our health - in the form of probiotics.
Understanding probiotics and the benefits of good bacteria
Essentially live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, probiotics are most commonly found as supplements for your digestive system. From natural yoghurt to kimchi, probiotics have been in use by humans throughout the annals of history.
As its name suggests, the word 'biotic' simply refers to the living components of an ecosystem, like plants, animals and bacteria. Probiotics, therefore, are bacteria that have a positive effect on the environment they live in, such as the human body.
That's why probiotics are now being used as part of women's intimate care, for example.
Who would've thought that a healthy vagina would be dominated by lactobacillus, a common bacteria found in fermented food, like yoghurt?
According to Betty Su, Chief Operating Officer at MAAB Probiotics, the balance of vagina microbiota may be disrupted by a number of external or internal factors, such as the changing of sexual partners, menopause, or even smoking.
Symptoms like itching or unusual vaginal discharge could occur, which might develop into more serious conditions medically categorised as vaginal infections, where medical help is required.
This is where probiotics step in for support. Research from Sweden found that reinforcing vaginal microbiota with supplementation of probiotic lactobacilli meant women were less likely to relapse with bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Another group of researchers found evidence that would suggest combining probiotics with antibiotics or anti-fungal medication provided a long-term cure against BV, as well as recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis.
"The concept of probiotic supplements is simple," Su says.
"With carefully selected probiotics, a woman can build or regain the balance of their vaginal microbiota, which helps prevent the risk of infection in the first place or lowers the risk of the problem coming back again, as it's very common for the problem to recur."
Backed by science
Su says due to the complexity of how probiotics function, as there are trillions of these microorganisms living in the human body, there has been significant scientific and research efforts dedicated to finding out the effects of probiotics on humans.
As Su explains, bacteria are like human beings - behaving differently wherever they choose to live. Certain bacteria species like to live in the upper intestines, some prefer to live in the lower intestines, some prefer to colonise the vagina, and some prefer the mouth.
Researchers such as those from Harvard have been working on the ability to identify why complex communities of bacteria live in different areas of our bodies - and how they got there in the first place.
This has meant a better understanding of how to remove or add bacteria to the human body for better health.
"The different types of bacteria have different habits," she says. "That's why scientists have developed different probiotic products for different health needs."
Probiotic supplements designed for different needs
MAAB, a young New Zealand company, sells a range of FastMelt probiotic supplements internationally. Each supplement is designed specifically to support a specific need including women's health, digestive health, immune health and oral health. The bespoke products are free of sugar and easy to take, via one sachet per day which dissolves on the tongue without the need for water.
"I think a new era has come for probiotic use, as humans are more mature in understanding ourselves and our relation to the environment," Su says.
"Finding and using the good bacteria to fight the bad ones to achieve our internal balance is such a logical and natural way."
Su says MAAB's innovative FastMelt dosage technology provides an advantage over their competitors, who mostly sell probiotics in capsule or tablet form.
"We keep pushing ourselves by reminding ourselves that good food also needs to taste good, so that it's possible to engage young people and children in making probiotic supplements a daily habit."
For more information or to purchase MAAB probiotics visit maab.co.nz