By: Michelle Schoffro Cook November 27, 2015 Follow Michelle at @mschoffrocook
We’ve been engaging in a warfare of sorts lately, against bacteria that are quickly learning to outsmart our weapons of choice—antibiotics. Consider that more than 70 percent of all bacterial infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics used to treat them, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But there is an interesting plot twist in this war: new players have emerged in the form of probiotics. While we more often consider probiotics for gut health and to prevent antibiotic-induced diarrhea, a growing body of research now points to probiotics as potentially beneficial against superbugs.
First, let’s compare antibiotics and probiotics. “Antibiotics,” literally translates to mean “against life” because these drugs indiscriminately kill bacteria, both pathogenic and beneficial ones, albeit fewer and fewer disease-causing bacteria as they become increasingly resistant to the drugs. By comparison, “probiotics” means “in favor of life” or “promotes life,” since these beneficial bacteria encourage health. But, that’s not all they do.
Exciting new research shows that some strains of probiotics are killing superbugs even when antibiotics stop working. Even better, research demonstrates that superbugs do not develop resistance to probiotics in the way they learn to resist antibiotics. That’s good news as more and more bacterial infections are no longer responding to antibiotic drugs.
In the case of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, a primary cause of gut disorders like ulcers, the bacteria has been found resistant to multiple drugs. However studies show that the probiotic known as Bifidobacteria bifiform is helpful against H. pylori infections.
Perhaps one of the most widely reported cases of antibiotic resistance can be found in an infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, a serious infectious disease that many people contract after a hospital stay. Antibiotics only work against MRSA in one way—attempting to kill the bacteria. But, according to research in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus have been found to work on MRSA infections in three ways:
1) The probiotics compete with S. aureus infectious bacteria for nutrients and attachment to the mucous membranes of the body;
2) The probiotics secrete compounds known as bacteriocins that actively kill the infectious bacteria; and
3) L. acidophilus inhibits S. aureus from producing a coating known as a “biofilm” that protects the disease-causing bacteria from being discovered by the body’s immune system.
And, that’s just the beginning. Probiotics are even showing promise against viruses, something antibiotics have never been able to do. Antibiotics have only ever worked against bacterial infections.
To learn more about probiotics in the prevention and treatment of superbugs and infections, check out The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out (DaCapo, 2015).