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Yeast May Help Fight Infection

There is a growing concern in the health sector that we are using too many antibiotics. The concern is a rise in infections and diarrhea caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria. Infection by Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that can survive as spores for many months, has become the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in hospitalized patients. In many hospitals it has become a major problem, as people develop serious infections while staying in hospitals for other health problems. Hands of staff, as well as a various sites within institutions have been found to be contaminated with Clostridium difficile. Contaminated toilets, bathing tubs, and electronic thermometers have been implicated as sources of Clostridium difficile. A recent report in a Canadian medical journal reported that 89 deaths in hospitals in two Canadian cities could be attributed to infections by Clostridium difficile. A second report indicated that one hospital in Quebec may have had 100 patients die due to the same bacterial infection in the last 18 months.


The advent of antibiotics saw a major reduction in many infectious diseases. However, over time bacteria, particularly pathogenic (harmful) bacteria, are able to mutate and find ways to overcome the lethal effects of antibiotics. The solution to this has been to use more , and different antibiotics. Antibiotics do kill harmful bacteria, but they also kill helpful bacteria at the same time. The term probiotics was coined to describe microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) which are beneficial to health and disease resistance. It is believed, that by consuming probiotic bacteria and yeasts, a proper balance on the population of microflora that inhabit our gastrointestinal systems can be achieved, leading to good health. How exactly probiotic yeasts and bacteria work in the body is still not clear. There is experimental data (in animals) to show that probiotic bacteria can stimulate our immune system and this could in turn result in improved disease resistance. It is also known that some microorganisms, as a defense mechanism, produce metabolites called bacteriocins that are toxic to other microorganisms. A third possibility is more. It may be that probiotic bacteria are able to stick to the walls of the intestine and prevent pathogenic bacteria from finding a niche where they can grow and produce their toxic effects. Consuming probiotics may be a new and better way to fight pathogenic bacteria.

A small number of studies have been published which show the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, when consumed in high numbers, reduce the recurrence of Clostridium difficile disease (CDD), also known as antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD). It is still not known how the yeast is able to kill the pathogenic bacteria or reduce its toxic effects, but large doses (1 gram per day containing 1010-1012 yeasts) are required to produce an effect. Since no foods contain this large number of yeasts, the patients were given capsules each day. It may well be that in the future, doctors will advise their patients to start taking Saccharomyces boulardiias a week or two before going into the hospital - a more natural way to combat disease and infection


A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial of Saccharomyces boulardii in Combination With Standard Antibiotics for Clostridium difficile Disease
JAMA 1994 Jun 22-29;271(24):1913-8

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