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Introduction

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 your care.

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 necessary.

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.

Reference

Van de Water J, Keen CL, and Gershwin ME. The influence of chronic yogurt consumption on immunity. J Nutr. 1999;129:S1492-S1495.