"Theoretically, beneficial microorganisms could be used to treat a range of clinical conditions that have been linked to pathogens, including gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, oral diseases like tooth decay and periodontal disease, and various other infections, including vaginal infections and possibly skin infections. Probiotics could also conceivably be put to use in preventing disease or thwarting autoimmune disorders. A number of these possibilities are being explored in research labs and hospitals around the world," says Richard Walker of the Food and Drug Administration, a co-chair of the steering committee that produced the report.
Probiotics can help prevent and treat disease through a number of mechanisms. One way is by interacting directly with the disease-causing microbes, making it harder for them to cause disease. An example of this is the ingestion of probiotic bacteria to prevent or treat diarrhea. The organisms help reinforce the natural bacterial barrier that exists on the lining of the digestive tract providing additional protection against pathogenic organisms that can cause diarrhea.
"Several probiotics have been shown to shorten the duration of acute watery diarrhea caused by rotavirus in children. Other causes of diarrhea may also be addressed through probiotics," says Carol Wells of the University of Minnesota, a member of the steering committee.
Another example of microbe-microbe interaction in probiotics is a phenomenon known as "competitive exclusion" in which beneficial microbes directl
Contact: Angelo Bouselli
American Society for Microbiology