Alive and Kicking

Alive and Kicking

When you take an antibiotic to kill off bad bacteria, you inadvertently wipe out plenty of good bacteria as well. That’s why many doctors – such as HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D. – recommend that antibiotic therapy be accompanied by probiotic supplements to replenish the good bacteria in the digestive tract.

But probiotics provide another key benefit: they strengthen the immune system. And a new study shows that this holds true even under dire circumstances.

Barrier defense

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the University of Alberta note that probiotic bacteria help maintain the mutually supportive relationship between immune function and gut barrier function. The gut barrier prevents the spread of bacteria to the major organs. When the gut barrier fails, the stage is set for immune dysfunction and the onset of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS).

STUDY PROFILE Researchers recruited 28 critically ill patients who had been admitted to intensive care at a teaching hospital

  • Subjects received one of three treatments: 1) viable probiotics, 2) non-viable probiotics, and 3) placebo
  • Researchers monitored intestinal permeability, MODS scores, and immunoglobulin concentrations (Immunoglobulins are antibodies produced by the immune system to protect against bacteria and viruses.)
  • After seven days of intervention, subjects in the viable probiotics group had significantly higher levels of immunoglobulins than subjects in the other two groups
  • Although there were no significant changes in MODS scores in any of the three groups, permeability of the gut barrier was considerably reduced in the viable probiotics group, but not in the other two

Living in the moment

Now – what’s a “viable” probiotic? The authors of the study don’t specifically define “viable” and “non-viable,” but these terms would seem to refer to live cultures versus non-live cultures. So there’s no mystery why the viable produced better results than the non-viable. When it comes to probiotics, live or “active” cultures are the only ones that really matter.

Yogurt is an excellent source of two probiotics: lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria bifidum. But not all yogurt products contain live cultures because some manufacturers use processing methods that prolong shelf life but kill live cultures. So when shopping for yogurt, look for labels that specifically indicate live, living, or active cultures. If a label simply says, “made with active cultures,” that doesn’t mean the cultures are still live.

But yogurt products can’t provide live organisms in the vast numbers required for therapeutic use or to correct an imbalance of bacteria caused by antibiotics. That job usually requires a high-potency probiotic supplement.

In previous e-Alerts and HSI Members Alerts we’ve told you about two powerful probiotic products:

  • Culturelle contains a potent strain of good bacteria called Lactobacillus G.G. When refrigerated, Culturelle is guaranteed to provide 30 billion live microorganisms per capsule. It has also been shown to be completely free of competing strains or harmful contamination. You can find more information about Culturelle on the web site for Vitamin Research Products: vrp.com.
  • A formula called Probiotics 12 Plus contains a blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and a dozen different strains of live lactic acid bacteria, including a proprietary strain called TH 10, which inhibits all strains of H. pylori – the bacterium responsible for peptic ulcers. Probiotics 12 Plus is manufactured by Uni Key Health Systems: unikeyhealth.com.