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Probiotics after antibiotic therapy

IT was in the winter of 1970 in Britain when this housemate of mine came down with a bad cold. We took her to the doctor and she was prescribed a course of antibiotics. Within an hour of administering the dose, her lips started to swell (nothing like Angeline Jolie) followed by her face, until her eyes were likeslits. It was another hurried trip to the clinic.

In my housemate's situation, it was a clear case of allergy to the antibiotic. Since the discovery of penicillin, antibiotics have saved many lives and prevented the spread of diseases for the better part of 50 years, but they may do more harm than good if used wrongly or indiscriminately. The American Academy of Family Physicians' website advises the public that antibiotics do not work against infections caused by viruses. These culprits cause colds, the flu, and most coughs and sore throats.

The widespread use of antibiotics has made bacteria immune to the medication, making it difficult to kill off infections and increasing the risk of acquiring them in an enclosed environment such as in a hospital.

According to the United States' National Institutes of Health, tuberculosis was almost purged in the 1940s and 1950s due to very effective antibiotic treatment but there was a resurgence in 1985. One of the reasons -- the emergence of an antibiotic-resistant strain.

Bacteria are most commonly the cause of diseases, and the ones that live in our gut are 10 times more than the total number of our body cells. The normal intestinal flora is composed of beneficial bacteria, yeasts and potentially pathogenic ones, yet we are not struck down by illness. This is because in a healthy and balanced gut flora, there are more of the beneficial bacteria that restrain the potential pathogenicity of the harmful ones. Unfortunately, ageing as well as many of our modern lifestyle factors including a poor diet, medications, traveling and food or water contaminants can upset the delicate balance of intestinal bacteria and lead to poor health.

It seems that a balanced gut flora is predominantly of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. Beneficial bacteria are the gatekeepers of the digestive tract. They coat the surface of the gut acting as a barrier against harmful bacteria and toxins. These friendly bacteria also activate the production of macrophages, which are large white blood cells for the destruction and engulfment of harmful bacteria or foreign matter that has entered the body. Apart from modulating the immune system against foreign invaders, beneficial bacteria help in the digestion and absorption of food.

Broad spectrum antibiotics are commonly prescribed and these potent drugs, while useful to curb harmful bacteria, unfortunately indiscriminately destroy the beneficial bacteria as well.

This can lead to antibiotic-induced diarrhoea, loss of appetite and general malaise. Most doctors would encourage patients to take a course of probiotics (friendly bacteria supplement) during their antibiotic therapy and to continue for a further two weeks to rebalance the gut flora. Studies show that when probiotics are administered during the course of antibiotic, it lowers the risk of antibiotic-induced diarrhoea.

Probiotics is defined by the WHO Expert Panel as "live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host". This panel has also published guidelines to depict what constitutes a probiotic and what does not. The bacteria in a probiotic supplement must themselves been clinically proven to have beneficial effects and are therefore given a designation such as Lactobacillus NCFM and not just Lactobacillus acidophilus per se so that studies on the said bacteria can be documented.

Lactobacillus NCFM has shown to be effective in lowering the risk of antibiotic-induced diarrhoea and in relieving symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, gas, belching and intestinal discomfort. Other proven probiotics strains for digestive health, especially for children, are Lactobacillus acidophilus 5 (LAS) and Bifidobacterium lactis 12 (BB12).



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