Fighting Superbugs: Study looks at power of probiotics

Can probiotics reduce infections in intensive-care hospital patients? This is the focus of a new clinical study at the Medical College of Georgia. Probiotics are the so-called “good bacteria” that help keep the intestinal tract and immune system healthy. They include Lactobacillus acidophilus, found naturally in live-culture yogurt and kefir, and in capsules at health and nutrition stores.

“When people are admitted to intensive care on broad-spectrum antibiotics, we know that 25 to 40% of them will get an infection with a resistant bacteria during their stay,” says Dr Robert G. Martindale, principal investigator on the new study. These antiobiotics can wipe out the natural bacterial flora in the intestinal tract. Such a disruption can have widespread consequences, including making the intestinal lining more susceptible to bacterial invasion, impacting the health of colon cells and disarming the immune system.

Giving good bacteria, called probiotics, is accepted therapy in many countries. But even though the bacteria can be found on store shelves, the therapy has not caught on in germ-vigilant North America, Dr Martindale says.

“These bacteria are good,” says Dr Martindale, and it’s not just hospitalization and antibiotics that are destroying them. Rather, it’s the North American lifestyle in general, with its emphasis on cleanliness and a diet low in fiber and high in refined, processed food that is weakening the natural, protective mechanisms of the gut and surrounding immune cells. “Humans that eat a good mixed diet with lots of fiber have plenty of [good bacteria]. Americans have little,” he says.

Medical College of Georgia, Mar 2, 2004