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Some Doctors Warming Up to Probiotics

Probiotics May Help Prevent Diarrhea in Patients on Antibiotics
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Up to 3 in 4 Patients on Antibiotics Get Diarrhea continued...

"There's no downside, in our experience," Lacy says.

Still, a better solution would be to be more selective in prescribing antibiotics to begin with, says panel member and probiotic researcher Eamonn M.M. Quigley, MD, professor of medicine at the National University of Ireland at Cork. He is co-founder of Alimentary Health Ltd., a biotechnology company that develops probiotic treatments.

The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of beneficial bacteria. Probiotic bacteria can be found in yogurt with live cultures and fermented milk and are available as dietary supplements.

Further study is needed to determine what type and dose of probiotic bacteria best prevent diarrhea, Quigley says.

Probiotics Outside Hospital Setting

Should people prescribed antibiotics outside of the hospital setting be taking a preventive course of probiotics as well?

Not unless they have disorders such as cystic fibrosis or recurrent urinary tract infections that require frequent treatment with antibiotics, Shanahan says.

"In general, only about 20% of people in the community setting get diarrhea that is associated with antibiotic treatment, and it is frequently short-lived," he says. "We need more data before we can make a recommendation."

While the expert panel agrees that probiotics are generally safe, they are dietary supplements that are regulated as foods, not drugs.

"Most [labels] don't say which specific bacteria are in your probiotic supplement or what it is supposed to be doing," says panel member Mark H. Mellow, MD, director of the Integris Digestive Health Center in Oklahoma City.

Look for a brand you trust and whose label offers that information, he advises. Also, tell your doctor if you are taking a probiotic supplement, Mellow says.

Probiotics vs. Gut Disorders

Past studies have shown that Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 (B. infantis 35624) -- a commercially available probiotic -- may help to relieve bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and other symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Fink says.

Still other research presented at the meeting showed that probiotics may lower levels of inflammation in the body. That could help to protect against inflammatory disorders such as ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and chronic fatigue syndrome, says Quigley, who worked on the study.

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