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Probiotics and Prebiotics
Parts of a Healthy Diet

by Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

How probiotics can help: Consuming two specific strains of bacteria (a strain is a subtype of a species) — Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 — has been shown to help restore good bacteria to the urogenital tract in women, reducing the incidence of both UTIs and vaginal infections.

Combating C. difficile infection. If you or someone you know has ever been hospitalized, you might be familiar with a common infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff for short. C. diff infection usually sets in after a course of antibiotics. Not everyone actually gets sick from this bug, but in those who do, typical symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, blood or pus in the stool, nausea, and dehydration. Symptoms can be mild or very severe. In extreme cases, kidney failure, bowel perforation, and even death can result. C. diff infection is common in hospitals and other health-care facilities and is thought to be spread by workers who don’t adequately wash their hands. People who are healthy usually don’t get sick from C. diff, but if you’re ill and given antibiotics, the antibiotics may wipe out the good bacteria that can keep C. diff under control. New strains of C. diff make it difficult to treat; not all antibiotics work on all strains, and some may make the infection worse.

How probiotics can help: Fortunately, several types of probiotics have been shown in studies to prevent or reduce diarrhea caused by C. diff infection. A probiotic yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii, along with antibiotics, may also help prevent recurrent C. diff infection.

Other ways probiotics may help
Researchers are also studying probiotics for other possible health benefits. For example, probiotics may be helpful in preventing and treating eczema in infants. They also may play a role in protecting against colon cancer, although it’s too early to recommend them on that basis. Probiotics may also be beneficial for treating kidney stones, lowering the risk for heart disease, reducing inflammation linked to arthritis, and even fighting cavities.

Probiotics may turn out to be helpful in the fight against obesity. In one study, pregnant women who were given probiotics and dietary counseling throughout their pregnancy, starting in the first trimester, had less body fat a year after giving birth than women who were given a placebo and dietary counseling during pregnancy. In another study, mice were fed an engineered strain of Lactobacillus that was found to change the composition of their fat tissue. While there’s currently not enough evidence to recommend consuming probiotics for weight loss, studies such as this one suggest that scientists may eventually be able to engineer bacteria that can change a person’s metabolism for the better. Future research will most certainly uncover even more uses for, and benefits from, probiotics than we know of today.

A particular strain of bacteria called Bifidobacterium bifidum CECT 7366 may be useful in treating peptic and duodenal ulcers caused by H. pylori infection, which can be difficult to treat using antibiotics. Studies have so far been done only in mice, so many more studies in humans are needed before this probiotic can be considered a viable treatment for ulcers.

Probiotic foods
Certain foods contain probiotics that either occur naturally in the food or are added during processing. Food sources of probiotics include the following:

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Also in this article:
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