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Die guten Käfer

von NFI Redaktion

Little Miss Muffet may have been doing more than just filling her tummy when she sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey.

„Curds“ is an old word for yogurt, and there is growing evidence that some of the bacteria contained in yogurt can prevent and treat diarrhea. They can also alleviate other gastrointestinal complaints, and some researchers are now advocating for the use of these beneficial bacteria – „probiotics“ – as medicine.

„They are not as proven as Pepto Bismol,“ says Gary Elmer, Ph.D., Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Washington. „But probiotics are worth a try.“

There are more than 400 species of bacteria living in the digestive tract. Researchers believe that at least some of these native bugs displace invasive, disease-causing organisms by utilizing resources the nasty bugs need and producing chemicals that kill them. Eating more of the helpful bacteria, the theory goes, might prevent stomach problems.

„It seems to work with the body’s natural defenses to prevent the overgrowth of a nasty bug,“ says Dr. Sherwood Gorbach, Professor of Community Health and Medicine at Tufts University in Boston.

Bacteria as Medicine

Gorbach discovered Lactobacillus GG, one of the most thoroughly researched probiotics. Studies show that it significantly reduces the frequency of many types of diarrhea, particularly the kind that occurs after an antibiotic regimen. Antibiotics often wipe out any bacterium that gets in their way, good or bad, altering the natural balance of the digestive tract.

Lactobacillus GG is one of the few probiotic bacterial strains available over the counter in capsule form. It could soon be available in yogurt as well.

Don’t Rely on Yogurt

Raw or unpasteurized yogurt – Miss Muffet’s curds – is full of bacteria. But most commercial yogurt is pasteurized, a process that kills bacteria. While some researchers found pasteurized yogurt with added live bacteria to be promising, most research has focused on capsules containing specific bacterial strains. „It’s generally agreed that a probiotic must be able to colonize the intestinal tract to affect human health,“ says Gorbach. „This requirement disqualifies many of the strains currently used in fermented dairy products.“

If you have diarrhea, are considering taking antibiotics, or planning to travel to a developing country, advocates say trying probiotics won’t hurt. „I wouldn’t hesitate at all,“ says Gorbach. „There’s no downside.“ However, to avoid damage to your wallet, choose supplements with bacteria that have documented positive results. In addition to Lactobacillus GG, these include Lactobacillus johnsoni, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacterium.

Published on February 10, 2000

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