Monday, December 5, 2011

Probiotics: Bacteria as medicine

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Science & Life, The Daily Star.
Probiotic species are mostly bacteria. They may also be marketed in phialsMd. Riajul Hossain
Before going into heart of the topic, let us listen to a conversation between between Sarah and her brother Saif.

Sarah: My tummy has been upset for two days.

Saif: Why don't you see a doctor?

Sarah: I did, in fact. He prescribed me some probiotics.

Saif: Probiotics? What kind of drug is it?

Sarah had to describe to her brother what probiotics actually are and how they can be used as medication. Today, we are going to focus on probiotics and their health implications. In one of my past articles, I discussed he microbial universe that reside within us which are actually normal microflora of our body. Now, probiotics can be described as the living species (typically bacteria) taken in one form or another by animals or humans in order to improve their health. The form of this intake may be as fermented food products or simply as pills of these beneficial friendly bacteria.

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria are the most common types of microbes used as probiotics. However, certain yeasts and bacilii may also be helpful.

The probiotics, indeed, could be an alternative to antibiotic treatment as recent research suggested. Furthermore, they can also be used in disease prevention, in some cases. However, the underlying mechanisms of the positive effect they impart upon the body's health are not clear.

The possible explanation is that the species of probiotic bacteria may change the gene expression pattern of the normal gut microflora in a positive direction and thus help treating some disease symptoms like diarrhea and inflammatory bowel diseases. RNA sequencing of the human gut microbes in the mice, after administering them with probiotics, revealed this phenomenon of changing gene expression of gut microbe genes encoding for metabolic enzymes, such as those involved in the catabolism of sugars called xylooligosaccharides, found in many fruits and vegetables. Moreover, it has been observed that mice injected with Helicobacter pylori first and then administering with some probiotic bacterial species, in this case Bifidobacterium bifidum, can make their health condition better.

The insight of this beneficial impact reveals that probably an antibiotic protein produced by Bifidobacterium bifidum is actally responsible for killing the Helicobacter pylori species. To state an example of how probiotics can be useful in disease prevention, researchers at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb. found that regular doses of probiotic bacteria given to hospital patients on mechanical ventilators resulted in fewer cases of pneumonia. The friendly bacterium for this particular case is Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. The researchers observed that probiotic treatment reduced the number of cases of pneumonia by nearly half.

Again, in one study carried out by the researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center investigated how one particular Lactobacillus strain might prevent the growth of certain types of cancer. They noted that further research may lead to discover probiotic treatment against colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases. In another study, researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Ohio State University worked on the role of Lactobacillus acidophilus in enhancing the efficacy of a vaccine used against human rotavirus infection that causes severe dehydrating diarrhea in infants and children worldwide.

Indeed, continuous research on these friendly bacteria and investigating their interactions with the gut microflora may help us inventing alternative medication that will bypass antibiotic and some other ways of treatment and will also help preventing many diseases in the first place.

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