Role of Probiotics in Health and Disease

About a month ago, I wrote that there is some evidence to advise patients to take probiotics when they are on antibiotics. This is to prevent antibiotic-associated colitis. The probiotic suggested was Bio-K. I understand patients are having trouble finding Bio-K. My pharmacist tells me that they can order one if the patient can wait for a day or so. So talk to your pharmacist and I am sure they can get one for you.

Bacterial content of Bio-K are Lactobacillus acidophilus CL 1285 and Lactobacillus casei LBC80R. Research has shown that these bacteria reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.

There is increasing trend towards the use of probiotics by patients suffering from certain kinds of illnesses and by the public in general. In fact, Ipsos Reid poll conducted this year revealed that 72 per cent of Canadians believe that probiotics improve their health.

Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of bacteria in the intestine. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system.

The word probiotics is a compound of a Latin and a Greek word. It means “favourable to life.” Probiotics, as defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host.

The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt, is the best known. Probiotic yogurt was first launched in Canada in 2004. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements.

There are a number of products available in the market. It is difficult to know which one to use. An article in the Medical Post (April 19, 2011) provides some guidelines and I will try and summarize that here.

For diarrhoea, try Danone’s Activia and DanActive. Bio-k has been mentioned earlier. DanActive has also been shown to reduce the duration of respiratory infection. Bio-K and DanActive should be routinely used in the hospitals where the incidence of diarrhoea and respiratory infection is high.

It would be nice to find a probiotic which will help two fairly common conditions affecting our gut – inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. But there are no solid recommendations in the Medical Post article. That means more research is required. Probiotics in the form of chewing gum and lozenges are being investigated for oral hygiene.

So, don’t spend your money on probiotics just because your friend or neighbour says it is a good idea. Probiotics do not fix all your problems. Do your own research. Go on the internet. Check Health Canada website. Eat yogurt regularly – it has many other benefits – before you spend your precious dollar.

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