Kix ©, Cheerios ©, or bacteria? These breakfast selections are a standard
joke around our house ever since my son became seriously ill.
Every morning before we eat our Wheaties ©, we begin the day with a
healthy dose of bacteria.
If you are reading this book, it is probably because you or a loved
one has also been diagnosed with a medical condition. The ailment
may be a problem within the gastrointestinal tract, perhaps recurrent
urogenital infections, or maybe an allergic condition. For many reading
this book, it is likely that traditional therapies have failed.
Alternatively, perhaps you are hoping to try a more "natural" approach
in place of conventional medicines.
Regardless of why you have picked up this book, it is important for
you to understand that this book is not intended to substitute for appropriate
medical intervention. Please don't use information in this book
for self-diagnosis or self-medication. Instead, please take any knowledge
you gain from reading this book to your physician so that together
you can make an informed decision about the best way to approach
As a health care professional, I did not fully appreciate the merits of
probiotics until I was faced with a life threatening illness in my twoyear
old son. Medical training teaches health care professionals to prescribe
and dispense only pharmaceuticals that have been extensively
studied and reviewed by the FDA. Getting over the idea that probiotics
are not "FDA-approved medications" is often the first hurdle that
physicians and patients must overcome.
So what are probiotics? Probiotics are live microorganisms that have
potential to benefit the host. The word probiotic literally means "for
life." Think about that for a minute..."for life". Now contrast "probiotic"
with "antibiotic". We all know what antibiotics do - they kill
bacteria. Probiotics, then, are the opposite of antibiotics. In other
words, this book describes the merits of using bacteria and other
microorganisms to treat illnesses. Of course, this notion runs counterintuitive
to what we have been taught for nearly a century. Ever since
the advent of antibiotics like penicillins and sulfas, we have relied, perhaps,
too much, on antibiotics. Now, I'm about to describe for you why
we need bacteria in our bodies. It is often difficult to overcome this mental hurdle.
When you consider that probiotics have been used successfully for
thousands of years, the idea of using them becomes less daunting.
Fermented milk products, which contain probiotics, have been used for
centuries. According to Persian tradition, Abraham of the Old
Testament owed his longevity to ingestion of fermented milk. King
Francis I of France was reportedly cured of an illness after eating
yogurt in the early 1500s. More recently, in the early 1900s,
Metchnikoff, a Russian Nobel laureate, believed high numbers of lactobacilli
in the gastrointestinal tract held the keys to a long and healthy
life. To prove this, he reportedly experimented on himself.
Metchnikoff experienced improved health and well-being with regular
ingestion of sour milk. He supposedly said,
"When people have learnt how to cultivate a suitable flora in the
intestines of children as soon as they are weaned from the breast, the
normal life may extend to twice my 70 years" (Van de Water et al.,
1999). From his experience, Metchnikoff believed lactic acid-producing
bacteria were antagonistic to disease-causing microorganisms and
would prevent illness and disease. So you see, this "probiotic stuff"
isn't new. Probiotics have been around for more than 5000 years.
Where do we find probiotics? The most common place to find probiotics
is yogurt. In fact, you may have eaten some already today.
Remember the statement found on the carton of yogurt that you ate for
lunch (or sent to school in your children's lunches), "This product contains
live and active cultures." Have you ever thought about what that
means? It means you are ingesting bacteria, live microscopic organisms,
with each delicious spoonful. Yogurt is not a probiotic per se.
However, when yogurt contains microorganisms that bring about
health benefits, it then becomes a probiotic-containing food. The
notion that yogurt is a health food has been established for centuries.
In fact, some of you may have already used yogurt in the past to treat
diarrhea, prevent urinary tract infections, or treat recurrent yeast infections.
Although yogurt contains probiotics, it probably doesn't contain
enough microorganisms to bring about major changes in our digestive
systems. That's why probiotic supplements (capsules and powders) are
When traditional medicine failed to eradicate my son's illness, we
were left with little in the way of alternatives. As a result, I began read-
ing the medical literature and was astounded at the huge body of knowledge
supporting the use of probiotics for treating a variety of different
diseases - ranging from food allergies to eczema; from Crohn's disease
to antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Interestingly, as I continued
reading and learning more about probiotics, I saw how not only the current
life-threatening gastrointestinal infection that my son was battling,
but also other common medical conditions that my son had been previously
diagnosed with, all pointed unanimously to a single underlying
problem - that of an imbalance in gut bacteria, probably dating back
to his birth.
It was then, that I began to see the need to have all the data on probiotics
compiled into one neat handbook or guide that could be read by
both the lay public and practitioners, alike. Some physicians claim that
there isn't enough data showing the benefits of probiotics. Clearly, they
have never looked. If all of the data was compiled and put it together
in one easy-to-read format, physicians would come to realize the merits
of probiotics, and patients would be better off because of it. So that
is exactly what I have set out to do. I have compiled the data on probiotics,
and have written this book using language that even the medical
novice can understand.
Frankly, I have written this book in hopes of reaching out to two
entirely different audiences. First, I want to introduce probiotics and
their uses to the general public. Second, at the same time, I want to provide
physicians with clinical documentation on the uses of probiotics.
I want physicians to see that probiotics aren't "voodoo medicine".
Quite the contrary, we already know and understand many of the
immunologic reasons why probiotics are effective. Because of the dual
audience that I am trying to reach, lay readers may find parts of the text
too detailed or complicated for their needs. However, let me encourage
you, don't simply stop reading! Keep going! Skim over parts that
aren't of interest to you. You will find that if you keep going, you will
understand the "bottom line", through "down-to-earth" explanations. In
this book you will read about medical procedures that you've never
even heard of and will meet fascinating people, who were formerly ill
-even close to death - as I relay their true-to-life experiences and tell
you how probiotics made them well and gave them their lives back
again. Additionally, for the medical novice, there is a glossary in the
back of the book that defines terms that are unclear.
It is also important for me to let you know that, unlike some other
authors who have written books touting the merits of probiotics, I am
not promoting any product or any brand of probiotics in particular. At
times, I may share with you, based upon my experience, the name of a
specific product that worked/failed to work for my family, but please
understand I don't have a hidden agenda. I stand to gain nothing financially
from any particular probiotic that is sold. It doesn't matter to me
which specific product you use to improve your health, as long as you
find one that works. In this book, I don't spend a great deal of time discussing
specific probiotic manufacturers, specific products by trade
name, or individual dosages. So please, don't interpret this book as promoting
any particular product. My job, as I see it, is to simply compile
the data for you and relay the facts in a relatively easy to understand
format. It is up to you and your physician to decide what to do with the
information from there.
A mentor once told me, "A single study in the medical/scientific literature
should never be accepted as fact. Rather, a study should be
repeated a minimum of three times by independent investigators
(researchers who don't stand to profit in any way from the outcome)
before it is accepted." This is why, as you will see, I have included numerous
references at the end of each chapter for clinicians who wish to look
up the details about various studies. The data supporting use of probiotics
for health benefits is enormous; with all of this knowledge, the merits of
probiotics can finally be accepted as fact, rather than just hearsay.
My goal in writing this book is to arm you with more knowledge
than I had when I was faced with a situation similar to the one you find
yourself in right now. This book is not intended to diagnose or treat
any disease nor is it intended to substitute for medical advice given by
your physician. Instead, this book is designed purely for educational
purposes. I want to educate you, so you and your physician can decide,
together, if probiotics may be right for you. I hope you will sit back and
learn some information that will be useful to you, your loved ones, or
your patients, as you continue your quest for good health.
Van de Water J, Keen CL, and Gershwin ME. The influence of chronic yogurt consumption
on immunity. J Nutr. 1999;129:S1492-S1495.