FHN Complementary Medicine Monthly Newsletter November 2001
Probiotics and Antibiotics
The human body is a walking ecosystem. Although we do not usually think of ourselves in this way, the fact is that we are "home" to trillions of microorganisms that live on and inside us. We are actually made up of 90% bacteria cells (100 trillion) and only 10% animal cells (10 trillion). Every person harbors more microorganisms in their gastrointestinal tract than there are people in the world, or have been in all of history. The gums, teeth, hair, and skin are also richly populated with many types of microorganisms.
Although some of the microorganisms inside us may be harmful, the vast majority are not. In fact, they are necessary for good health. Human beings have developed a symbiotic relationship with these microorganism. For instance, beneficial bacteria in the intestines help digest foods, create vitamins (such as B-12 and K), and inhibit the growth of disease-promoting pathogenic bacteria. Without these beneficial or probiotic microorganisms, as they have now come to be called, we could not survive.
Throughout history many peoples have traditionally eaten certain cultured and fermented foods that are rich in beneficial microorganisms and can increase digestive strength and general health. For instance, fermentation with lactic-acid forming bacteria, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, is one of the oldest methods of making cultured foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut.
Many scientific studies over the last 50 years have shown that probiotic organisms can improve the nutritional quality of foods, as well as produce antibiotics, anticarcinogens, anticholesteremic substances, and substances that break down and recycle toxins for their human host.
Negative Side Effects of Antibiotics
There is no question that antibiotics are invaluable medicines. In emergency situations--such as in the case of a child on the verge of death from meningitis--antibiotics are literally life-savers. Even in many less extreme situations, they can be extremely valuable. Nonetheless, antibiotics are too often overused in current medical practice--with marked negative side effects, one of the greatest being damage to the intestinal microflora.
Once probiotic organisms have been destabilized and stripped off the walls of the intestines, potentially pathogenic organisms such as Candida albicans, Staphylococci, and Clostridium difficile have much more opportunity to proliferate. This can lead to infection, sepsis, diarrhea, and colitis. Significantly, these conditions usually coincide with a reduction in the number of L. acidophilus in the intestines. One side effect of antibiotic therapy is diarrhea. This is often called antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Other names for this condition are antibiotic-associated colitis, pseudomembranous colitis, or Clostridium difficile colitis. This infection is caused by a disruption of the normal bacterial content of the large intestine resulting in a loss of the normal healthy bacteria. Most cases follow a course of antibiotic therapy, but sproradic cases can occur. In either event, this disruption allows an overgrowth of the Clostridium difficle bacteria which produces a toxin. This toxin damages the lining of the large intestine causing the symptoms. These symptoms include diarrhea with many loose watery bowel movements during the day and often at night. Some cases are more severe with fever abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Unfortunately, about 20% of patients with C. difficile infection have a reccurence of the infection after they finish a course of appropriate treatment - even if they are not exposed to more antibiotic therapy. There does not appear to be any relationship between recurrence and the severity of the original infection or the treatment used. It does seem that recurrent disease is slightly more common in older women, kidney disease, and chemotherapy. Of course, taking antibiotics for another infection will increase the risk of reccurence. Most affected are adults, but recurrent C. difficile has been reported in children. We have talked only about diarrhea as a side effect of decreased flora, however there is growing evidence that more far reaching side effects, such systemic candidiasis, asthma, allergies,etc., may occur.
Probiotic therapy is a treatment of recurrent C. difficile. Preliminary clinical studies suggest that these agents may help restore the normal healthy intestinal bacteria and increase resistance to the growth of C. difficile and other flora a imbalances. Several agents have been studied including Saccharomyces boulardii(SB), a non-disease yeast that inhibits the growth of C. difficile and may help inactivate its toxin. Saccharomyces boulardii is a live yeast packaged in capsules and sold over the counter to treat diarrhea; millions of doses are sold each year. SB does not remain in the intestine and is eliminated from the body within several days. SB is a different yeast than candida, which causes oral and vaginal yeast infections, or thrush. Saccharomyces boulardii does not increase thrush and in fact may lessen or prevent thrush infections.
Another helpful probiotic organism is Lactobacillus. Patients to can eat yogurt with an active lactobaccilus culture during and after their course of therapy, however most of the time this is not nearly strong enough to counter act the strength of the antibiotic used. A more effective form of lactobacillus is a concentrated pill or powder form.
The Benefits of Maintaining a Healthy Indigenous Microflora or Probiotic Supplementation
1. Boosting the Immune System
2. Inhibiting the Growth of Pathogenic Organisms
3. Prevention of Diarrhea from Various Causes
4. Cancer Prevention
5. Reduced Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
6. Improved Digestion of Proteins and Fats
7. Vitamin Synthesis
8. Detoxification and Protection from Toxins
If you are on or have been on (in your life time) antibiotics you need to be on probiotics.
We use Saccharomyces boulardii during therapy and acidopholus after therapy. Try it…it just may save you from further complications.
Dr. Glenn and Julie Smith