probiotics

(photo: creativecommons)
(photo: creativecommons)

A recent news article from NPR refers to several lines of research that we are following here at the IBS Treatment Center. 

The essential idea is that the gut ecosystem affects much more than just the digestive process.  There are big connections between the gut and the brain. 

This is very important research and it’s great that these researchers are learning more about it. 

We often see patients with digestive issues that also have emotional, behavioral, and cognitive function symptoms as well.  Resolving the causes of the digestive issues can also impact these other conditions.  Research is showing us why that is. 

Excerpt from NPR:

This research raises the possibility that scientists could someday create drugs that mimic the signals being sent from the gut to the brain, or just give people the good bacteria — probiotics — to prevent or treat problems involving the brain.

The IBS Treatment Center is dedicated to staying on the forefront of these issues and helping patients get the best solution possible to their health challenges. Contact us for details.

(photo: creativecommons)

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Lactobacillus acidophilus from a commercially-sold nutritional supplement tablet. (photo: creativecommons)
Lactobacillus acidophilus from a commercially-sold nutritional supplement tablet. (photo: creativecommons)

The experts are finally recognizing probiotics and their potential benefit for IBS patients. 

But their logic is stuck in the drug mindset – you have symptoms, take this and it will make you better – rather than understanding that it is possible to identify specific conditions where probiotics are called for and treat those conditions intelligently. 

Of course probiotics (good bactera) have benefits. They have been part of the gut ecosystem for millions of years. However, they are not a cure all. Many people with digestive problems already have great levels of good bacteria. And many others get worse rather than better when they take probiotics.  There are good reasons for this, but the important thing to know is that probiotics are just one of hundreds of issues affecting your digestion.

Excerpt from dailyrx.com:

Most of the doctors agreed that probiotics did not reduce gas or diarrhea in IBS patients.

However, for patients using specific probiotics to treat antibiotic-associated diarrhea, all of the doctors agreed that the studies showed prevention of or a reduction in the duration of diarrhea.

They also agreed that there were no significant adverse effects associated with using probiotics in addition to primary treatment for gut health issues.

The researchers concluded that many trials support the usefulness of specific strains of probiotics for various conditions, including IBS and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

Read the full article here.

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Probiotics image thanks to commons.wikimedia

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(photo: commons.wikimedia)
(photo: commons.wikimedia)

A recent article from PhysiciansBriefing.com discusses the link between diet and the bacteria in your gut.

“This finding, although exploratory in nature and requiring replication, supports a recently reported link between long-term dietary habits and the structure of gut microbiota and suggests that a permanent change of microbiota may be achieved by appropriate diet,” Cotillard and colleagues write.

This is a very useful study, but it’s marketed backwards to attract more attention. What I mean by that is that they found that weight is correlated to the types of bacteria in your digestive tract, but what they imply is that your bacteria determine your weight. If you actually read the study, what they found was just the opposite, that weight affects the bacteria in your digestive tract.  

It’s not really your weight that determines your bacteria, it’s the type of food that you eat. If you eat a lot of things that would cause you to gain weight, those foods also affect the types of bacteria in your digestive tract. Your digestive tract is a microecosystem. Like any ecosystem, the nutrients in it affect the types of organisms that will thrive in that ecosystem. Therefore obese people have a different ecosystem in their digestive tract than non-obese people.

But of course trying to turn it into a weight loss scheme is much more interesting to more people. Don’t be mislead, you can’t lose weight by taking probiotics.

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(Image thanks to detoxplanet.webs.com)

In the last few years there has been a lot of media interest in probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria, the most recognizable being acidophilus. There are many misconceptions about how probiotics work and what they do and don’t do. Hopefully this series of articles can help clear things up.

One of the most interesting areas of biology is the study of how interdependent all life is. The bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts are an example of symbiotic relationships – different organisms living together for mutual benefit. Our digestion depends on the presence of a complex soup of trillions of individual microorganisms that help us digest the food we eat. Without them, we would die. Modern medical science still has much to learn about this ‘soup’ of microorganisms that live inside us. But we do know some of the problems that can develop and interfere with good digestion.

The human digestive tract contains an ecosystem. The various forms of life compete in the system for space and for resources like water and nutrients. They also help to break down food, create some vitamins, and produce waste materials and other chemicals. The chemicals we ingest (food, drink, and other things that make it into our digestive system) feed the organisms in this ecosystem. Our intestinal wall provides both a place for microorganisms to grow and a barrier to prevent invasion into the rest of our body.

Our immune system is exceptionally active in the digestive system, allowing needed nutrients to pass into our bodies, while working to prevent unwelcome guests. When the ecosystem in our gut gets out of balance, we often develop digestive symptoms and sometimes other health problems. Two of the things that can cause symptoms include infection – the presence of an unwanted microorganism, and absence or a deficiency of needed microorganisms.

Either of these two conditions can cause digestive problems. The only way to know if one or both of these is the source of digestive problems in a particular patient is to measure the microorganisms present in the digestive tract. Such measurement is most commonly done by stool testing, or more specifically, a stool culture.

Image thanks to detoxplanet

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Probiotics are microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health.

Speaking of probiotics, now is a good time to review exactly what they are. Here’s an overview from our friends at WebMD.com.

Probiotics are microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health. They are available in supplements and foods. The idea of taking live bacteria or yeast may seem strange at first. After all, we take antibiotics and use antibacterial substances to fight bacteria. But  our bodies naturally teem with such organisms.

The digestive system is home to more than 500 different bacterial species. They help keep intestinal linings healthy and assist in breaking down food. Beneficial organisms are also believed to help regulate healthy immune response.

How Do Probiotics Work?

Researchers believe that some digestive disorders result when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines becomes disturbed.  This can happen after an infection or after taking antibiotics. Intestinal problems can also arise when the lining of the intestines is damaged. Introducing new beneficial organisms in the form of probiotics may help.

“Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines,” says Stefano Guandalini, MD, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. These friendly bugs may also help fight off diarrhea-causing organisms.

(more…)

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This is a good piece from NPR.  But the problem is that they are testing these probiotics as if they were drugs.  They give patients probiotics and then try to see if there is an effect.  It’s similar to giving cars that are having some missing issues a gas drying agent.  The cars that have water in their tanks may be helped, but those that also have a shorted spark plug, or a bad distributor, or whatever won’t be helped much if at all – even if they do have water in the tank.  Why not test to see if there is water in the tank first?

The way to test probiotics is to determine if the patient needs them – if they are deficient or if they have an infection.  Then the probiotics can be part of the treatment to get their gut back to healthy.  But if the patient has an infection they many need more than just probiotics.  If the patient is deficient because they have another issue (inflammation, etc.) then treating that issue will be necessary before just adding probiotics to the diet will help.

From NPR.org:

Researchers are studying the ability of beneficial micro-organisms – or probiotics – to treat a range of conditions from eczema to inflammatory bowel disease. And the idea that “good” bacteria are healthy for us is gaining traction.

But the science is tricky.

On one hand, scientists now know that some of the millions of microbes that populate our guts are beneficial. “It’s incredibly clear that these bacteria in our gut are not just innocent bystanders, hanging out,” says Athos Bousvaros, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Harvard Medical School.
 
Beneficial bacteria help us digest food, make vitamins, even help protect us from harmful pathogens. “That’s all totally real,” Bousvaros says.

But it’s not clear which live micro-organisms, or probiotics, are helpful, says Bousvaros.

Lots of people have turned to yogurt, with the belief that the bacteria added to the milk as part of the fermentation process are helpful. And there’s some evidence that yogurt affects digestion.

Many others are trying specialty yogurts or supplements made with specific strains of probiotics. There are hundreds of products on the market.
“Most of [the products] have never been studied,” says Kirsten Tillisch, a gastroenterologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “And they all contain all different kinds of strains of bacteria.”

It’s not clear whether different people need different strains, or whether some strains are more beneficial. “We just don’t know,” says Tillisch. So she tries to steer her patients who are eager to try probiotics to products that have some clinical research behind them.

Increasingly, researchers and yogurt-makers are trying to nail down specific benefits. For instance, a probiotic called Align has been studied in people with irritable bowel syndrome. “There have been a couple of studies that have shown, in irritable bowel syndrome specifically, that people do better [when they consume it],” says Tillisch

Full article here.