Probiotics as mainstream medical therapy?

An Allergy Research Foundation conference - Dick Mieli reports

Professor Jonathan Brostoff, founder of the Allergy Research Foundation and professor of allergy at King’s College London introduced the programme.

Glen Gibson, professor of food microbiology at the University of Reading presented the topic Probiotics, their application and future prospects.
Probiotics have a long history of use with the first recorded intake of ‘soured milks’ being over 2000 years ago. The first real scientific look at probiotics was the work of Metchnikoff at the Pasteur Institute in 1907.
Probiotics can be found in powders, tablets or capsules, liquid suspension and sprays. Most preparations destined for human use are fermented milks, principally dairy products and other drinks.
Lactobacilli and bifido bacteria are the most commonly used although there are others. He emphasised that probiotic use should always be accompanied by good dietary management.

The clinical application to probiotics - Fergus Shanahan, professor of medicine at University College, Cork.
What we need to know:
• strain selection for specific individuals
• dose and method of delivery of probiotic
• verification (regulation) of product stability
• normal flora and host interaction.
Probiotics improve gut flora.

Product integrity - do they contain what they say on the label? - Professor Jeremy Hamilton-Miller, professor of medical microbiology at University College Medical School.

Reports from different countries show that many probiotic products do not match their label claims. The consumer has a right to accurate information about the numbers of live bacteria, correctly identified as to strain and level, and to know that the component organisms may properly be called ‘probiotics’ ie show a beneficial effect in man.

Safety implications - what can affect product integrity.
Supplier: tablet-making organisms can be killed if overheated
Wholesaler: bad transport can harm the product
Retailers: letting the product stand in sunlight or keeping it past its best-before date.
The public needs to be educated to the above.

Probiotics in childhood disorders - Professor Simon Murch, professor of paediatrics at Warwick Medical School.

The use of probiotics in infectious diarrhoea is associated with significant reduction of both output volume and symptom duration. In sporadic infectious diarrhoea, the use of lactobacilli as probiotics reduces the duration of the diarrhoea by approximately one day. There is some preliminary evidence that probiotics may potentially reduce the incidence of allergies or treat established disease by providing appropriate infectious exposures to the developing immune system to promote tolerance.

Probiotics and their use in irritable bowel syndrome. Professor Eamonn Quigley, professor of medicine at Cork University.

Probiotics have been used for decades in various parts of the world and, on a purely empirical basis, by sufferers from a variety of gastrointestinal ailments, some of which would now be classified as irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics can modulate the flora and restore balance.

The innate immune system - Professor Gerhard Gerber,
professor of biochemistry at Berlin, gave an in-depths presentation on the immune system. Innate immunity plays a pivotal role in this integrated defence system. It contributes to destroying the pathogen, determining the localisation and extent of the challenge and it is an antecedent for adaptive immune response.

How can probiotics work in inflammatory bowel disorder?
Dr Sandra MacFarlane
, senior scientist at Dundee University.

There is increasing evidence that the use of functional foods such as probiotics may reduce the severity of ulcerative colitis and be beneficial as maintenance therapy for irritable bowel disorders.
While the precise mechanism by which probiotics exert their effect on this disorder is not fully understood, these may include tightening the epithelial barrier to prevent translocation of bacteria or antigens, regulation of the innate immune system and modification of the commensal microbiota to reinstate homeostasis.

Combining probiotics with prebotic fibre - clinical and surgical application. Professor Stig Bengmark from Lund, Sweden.

The world suffers from an epidemic of acute and chronic illness. Much supports the association of chronic disease with modern lifestyles, stress, lack of exercise, transition from natural unprocessed food to processed, calorie- condensed and heat-treated food. People living a western lifestyle have lost a large portion of their intestinal flora and most likely also their bronchoalveolar flora. What we eat affects our immune system.

Gut microflora: metabolism and interactions with the host - Dr Kieran Tuohy from Reading.

The human gut microflora is a dynamic microbial community consisting of many hundreds of bacterial species. There is growing evidence that the modulation of the gut microflora through dietary means and direct microbe interactions may bring about an improvement in biomarkers of intestinal and systemic disease.

More information from the
Allergy Research Foundation
PO Box 18 Aylesbury HP22 4XJ, UK
tel 01296 655818


Click here for more articles

Click here for LINKS to manufacturers of nutrition and food supplements.

First Published in 2007

Back to top