Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pro-biotics


Now, everyone has heard about anti-biotics. But, look out, because the latest craze in the health food world is the area of "pro-biotics." What are these? Well, as you can probably figure out, these are "friendly" bacteria - and they are found in the digestive tract. A recent article from the Associated Press discusses this further.
Experts say probiotics are generally safe, and in some cases might be helpful. More research is needed, and it's a hot new area, reflecting a growing understanding of the role that naturally occurring intestinal bacteria play in health. This week, the National Institutes of Health is hosting a conference where top scientists will discuss recent advances.
From a business standpoint, this is a fast growing sector. According to the article, over 150 food products that have probiotics have been introduced in the market this year - compared to about 100 last year and just 40 the year before that. But, do they actually work?
Small studies have suggested that certain probiotics might help treat or prevent some types of gastroenteritis, diarrhea and allergic skin reactions, and the bugs are being investigated for many other ailments.

The NIH has declared the study of gastrointestinal bacteria and probiotics a major research initiative. The agency's upcoming meeting will highlight current science so it can identify research gaps and determine the direction of future research, said Crystal McDade-Ngutter, who heads an NIH working group on the topic.
It's still too early to say whether these probiotics deliver substantial health benefits. The research still has to be done. Pro-biotic detractors say that without a gastrointestinal condition, probiotics just exhibit a placebo effect.

In my clinical experience, in talking with some of the specialists around here, feelings are mixed as well. Some put all their patients on probiotics, and others say it's just a waste of money and give patients false hope of symptom relief. Me? I'm cautiously optimistic. I have read and I am intrigued from some of the early studies. But, I'm not completely sold - yet.

3 comments:

Leila said...

I've personally found probiotics to be helpful, at least when it comes to preventing or eliminating certain conditions such as fungal infections

When my daughter was a infant, she developed thrush. Two months of oral Nystatin didn't do a thing. I started her on probiotics and within days the thrush was gone, never to return. It could have been coincidence, but I tend to believe they really helped.

As many women are, I'm prone to vaginal yeast infections whenever I take antibiotics. I just take some probiotics during and continue for a while afterwards. I've prevented a number of yeast infections this way, so it seems.

Despite the fact that I think probiotics are beneficial, I'm a little perturbed by the abundance of products on the market that supposedly contain them. It seems to be the latest fad these days and I seriously doubt that that yogurt smoothie in the grocery store has enough in it to make any difference. When I take mine, I always buy the refrigerated powder and take 2-3 times the recommended dose on the bottle. Any less and I don't seem to derive any benefit.

Kb said...

Leila, I agree with you on results from probiotic and acidophilus treatments are tangible and postive. I have had good results with Probiotic Pearls too. I do use the powder form for my son with special needs who has a hard time with constipation and fungal irritations -- the milk with added acidophilus works splendidly. My husband is a transplant patient and a diabetic and can't take the supplements but does think the yogurt is helpful to him. In my experience as long as you stick with brands that only make probiotic formulas I don't think it matters what brand you buy.

halfmd said...

I did a quick search on PubMed and came up this RCT on probiotics and diarrhea: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7610/80

According to the authors, a probiotic milkshake given at the same time as an antibiotic prescription severely decreased the number of cases of diarrhea---and eliminated the number of patients with c. diff. colitis.