While reviewing various medical journals for this post, I came across a short article in the current issue of the Journal of Family Practice. The article was entitled, “Do probiotics decrease antibiotic-associated diarrhea?” Having seen this article, I felt this would be an excellent topic to discuss.
What are probiotics?
The term probiotic which means “for life” refers to several classes of “friendly bacteria”. There are literally a few hundred different species of bacteria that live in the human gastrointestinal tract. These “friendly bacteria” are extremely important in helping to prevent and defend against diseases within the gastrointestinal tract, vagina and even throughout the entire body.
The most important friendly bacteria are known as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum. The beneficial effects of these various bacteria were first described by a Russian scientist approximately a hundred years ago. However, only in the last couple of decades have there been scientific studies demonstrating the benefits of these important friendly bacteria.
How do probiotics work?
There are various theories proposed regarding the mechanism of action of probiotics. Probiotic bacteria have been shown to colonize the gut and induce specific pH and other chemical changes within the intestinal wall. These effects may directly inhibit the growth of pathogens. Probiotic bacteria likely exert an anti-inflammatory effect as well.
Returning to that article in the Journal of Family Practice, there is mention about 41 separate studies looking at the use of probiotics in regard to antibiotic associated diarrhea. Seven of these studies were randomized and placebo controlled. The results from all of the studies indicated that diarrhea occurred during antibiotic therapy in about 20% of patients. The reason for this is that antibiotics, especially the more powerful, broad spectrum antibiotics, tend to destroy the friendly bacteria in the gut. The summary of the studies noted that by taking probiotics along with the antibiotics, the likelihood of diarrhea was now reduced to 8%, representing a 60% improvement.
Probiotics, however, have many more benefits than just preventing antibiotic induced diarrhea. Animal models of colitis have provided the proof that probiotics can prevent and treat established intestinal inflammation. A recent review listed six studies on ulcerative colitis involving 219 patients and seven studies with Crohn’s disease involving 199 patients. Probiotics were used to maintain clinical remission either alone or together with conventional pharmacologic treatment and the results were usually encouraging. There have been other studies in the medical literature indicating that regular use of probiotics can actually reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections.
The value of probiotics, however, extends well beyond the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. In a study published in February this year, a group of children between the ages of one to thirteen years old with atopic dermatitis (eczema) were randomized to receive either lactobacillus or placebo. At the end of the six week study, 56% of the treated patients experienced improvement in their eczema, where only 15% believed their symptoms improved after placebo. There have been other studies suggesting that use of probiotics can be beneficial for asthma and even cancer. Studies indicate people that consume high levels of probiotics may have a reduced risk of colon cancer. Several weeks ago Dr. John Walker, a board certified gastroenterologist on the scientific advisory panel had emailed me some comments on probiotics. He indicated to me “I’m using probiotics more and more in my practice. I find them very effective adjuncts in the treatment of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, many times probiotics alone help the symptoms of IBS more than prescription medicine, without the dangerous side effects. There is an increasing body of medical literature substantiating their benefit.” His comments say it all.
Probiotic supplements for clearing Candida should contain lactobacillus as well as other important nutrients to help counter the effects of yeast (candida) when present. Candidiasis can cause excessive gas, bloating, acid indigestion, poor energy and other problems.
Studies also have shown that 1 gram of fiber supplementation dramatically increases the colonies of friendly bacteria by several hundred percent after just thirty days. The next time you take an antibiotic or have any gastrointestinal problems, consider adding probiotics to your daily regimen. Based on all of the known health benefits, I would also recommend taking probiotics as part of your daily supplement regimen “for life.”
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