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STEPHANIE ZONIS focuses on good foods and the people who produce them.



April 2007
Updated April 2008

Product Reviews / NutriNibbles

What Is Probiotic Food?

Part V: Probiotics Research


This is Part V of a seven-part article. Use the index below to click back and forth among the pages.



The State of Probiotics Research

More and more research on probiotics is being carried out worldwide. Unfortunately, not all of it is worthwhile. Dr. Robert Martindale, introduced in the previous section, may be an enthusiastic supporter of the use of probiotics, states flat out that an overwhelming percentage of this work is “quackery.” Why? Because people are not conducting studies according to strict scientific protocols, including going into the research with a hypothesis to prove or disprove.

Despite this, Dr. Martindale feels it’s possible to wade through the nonsense and find the science, which he believes reveals solid evidence for the use of probiotics in many areas of medicine. One particularly promising area of research has been in cutting the incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), which occurs in patients on respirators, and has a mortality rate of about 20%. Studies are also being conducted in probiotic prevention of HIV, reducing the effects of IBD and even concerning Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant bacterium that is increasingly common in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, as well as in the general public. Dr. Martindale credits excessive use of antibiotics with propagating this resistant strain.

Dr. Martindale explains that probiotics and accompanying research are problematic when it comes to humans, because researchers must designate the probiotics or probiotic products they’re testing as either a food or a drug. If it’s called a food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will not permit curative claims for it. On the other hand, if it’s labeled as a drug, you must secure FDA approval for it.

Dr. Martindale also notes a reluctance among some of the medical community, and much of the American public, to believe in the efficacy of probiotics. He attributes this to the fact that probiotics is a prevention-based method of healthcare, while Americans are used to treatment-based methods, taking action only after they’ve become ill or infected. Probiotic healthcare is what Dr. Martindale calls a “complete change in dogma”; many people will be slow to accept it. But he declares that we are “losing the bacterial resistance war,” and that we can’t make or change antibiotics fast enough to counter new or mutating pathogens.


BeakerPhoto by H. Berends | SXC.

Dr. Martindale likens antibiotics and probiotics to older-style and newer weed killers on a lawn. Although useful and necessary in some situations, antibiotics, the older-style weed killers, destroy both beneficial and harmful bacteria; in lawn care terms, they kill the grass as well as the weeds, not a desirable outcome. Specific, targeted strains of probiotics, like the newer generation of weed killers, kill only the “weeds” (pathogens), leaving the grass (good bacteria) intact. The doctor can cite a dizzying array of illnesses and diseases that can be helped by probiotics or might someday be lessened or eliminated by them. Of course, not all physicians share his belief, and this dissension will take a long time to sort out.

Continue to Part VI: Probiotics Research

Return to the Index

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