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Some Doctors Warming Up to Probiotics

Probiotics May Help Prevent Diarrhea in Patients on Antibiotics

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.

Blood levels of anti-inflammatory proteins dropped in people with one of these conditions who took B. infantis 35624 for eight weeks, he reports. Levels were unchanged in people who took a placebo.

But whether that translates into fewer symptoms and better health has yet to be proven, he says.

The study was funded by Alimentary Health Ltd.

Probiotic supplements generally cost $15 to $40 for a month supply, according to Quigley.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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