Interview by Sheila J. Rogers, Director ACN
Dr. Chaitow, some of our readers are not familiar with probiotics. Could you give us an overview of the concept?
Probiotics literally means for — or supporting — life, in contrast to antibiotics, which kill life, in the form of microorganisms. Antibiotics can certainly save lives, but by their nature and activity in the body they always damage critically important colonies of friendly bacteria that reside in our digestive tracts. Because of the many vital functions these bacteria perform, anything that damages their functions also damages us. Similarly, anything that enhances the health, function, and life of the three pounds’ weight of friendly bacteria living inside each of us is a probiotic substance. More usually, the word probiotic is used to describe products that contain replacement-friendly bacteria (usually Lactobacillus acidophilus and/or bifidobacteria) to replenish or enhance the depleted or compromised normal residents of our intestinal tract.
I know you lecture frequently in the United States. Is there a better understanding of the need for probiotics in the United Kingdom and Europe than in the U.S.A.?
There seems to be an equal degree of confusion and misinformation in both the U.K. and the States, although in Germany, France, and Scandinavia, both the public and health care professionals seem better informed. A leading U.K. consumer organization is sponsoring a current investigation and evaluation of probiotics, in which I am participating as an advisor. Results will be published early in 1997.
What would your advice be to our audience regarding how the use of probiotics might impact autism, Tourette syndrome, attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity, or learning disabilities?
Antibiotics need to be used whenever bacterial infection seriously threatens the well-being of a child or adult. But, before answering your question directly, let me remind readers that safe and effective alternatives to antibiotics are sometimes available from licensed herbal, traditional Chinese medicine, and naturopathic practitioners. This could include, for example, appropriate use of plant extracts such as echinacea, hydrastis, garlic, and berberine, or the supervised use of therapeutic fasting.
If regular antibiotics have been used, especially for more than one course, the friendly colonies of acidophilus in the small intestine and bifidobacteria in the large intestine will have been compromised. This can result in massive overgrowth of yeast and hostile bacteria in the gut, with a host of negative consequences, including digestive complaints, irritable bowel syndrome (constipation and/or diarrhea), malabsorption of nutrients, bowel and systemic toxicity, the development of sensitivity/allergy conditions, and more. The fact that the syndromes and conditions you focus on in Latitudeshave, to varying degrees, been linked to food sensitivities and allergy makes this a relevant topic that deserves careful consideration by your readers. Many digestive complaints such as the ones I’ve mentioned can be simply and safely eliminated or improved if suitable probiotic use is initiated to reduce the presence of undesirable bacteria and yeasts, along with replacement of normal flora to the intestines.
Recent studies are indicating a link between strep infection and onset of some cases of Tourette syndrome, as well as symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. Penicillin is being used as one treatment. What recommendation would you give for someone undergoing treatment with penicillin?
Anyone taking antibiotic medication should seriously consider supplementation immediately following this with at least one month of a high-potency, good-quality probiotic product. Other nutritional strategies should also be initiated to make recolonization more likely and rapid — including a diet that supports the natural flora. This should involve a low-sugar, low-fat intake, along with a high intake of complex carbohydrate and low-fat/high-quality protein. I recommend fresh vegetables, beans, whole grains, fruits, and low-fat, live, organic yogurt. Nonvegetarians should seek out free-range poultry that is uncontaminated by antibiotic residues, and nonfarmed fish.
Depending upon the individual’s dietary and medical history, particularly the use of antibiotics or drugs such as cortisone or any other steroid medication, including birth control pills, additional approaches may be called for. My book Candida Albicans — Could Yeast Be Your Problem? explains many of these strategies. While self-help is admirable, when complex issues are involved, I believe advice should be sought from a health care professional trained in nutrition — such as a naturopath or herbal medicine expert, as well as many chiropractors, osteopaths, and — increasingly — MDs.
One of the many areas being explored for autism is intestinal permeability. How does the use of probiotics relate specifically to this?
If friendly bacterial colonies have been damaged, for example by antibiotics, and an overgrowth of yeasts such as Candida albicans has occurred in the gut, then the mucous membrane lining of the intestines can be damaged; the lining becomes more permeable than is safe, allowing passage of partially digested foods as well as wastes into the bloodstream, provoking severe allergic/sensitivity reactions. Through therapeutic healing, it is critical to plug this avenue being accessed by undesirable substances in order to normalize intestinal permeability. Probiotic supplementation and dietary reform should be part of the strategy.
Is there anything to suggest that use of probiotics improves general health — resulting in, let’s say, fewer immune function problems?
We are all contaminated by pesticide and heavy metal (lead, mercury, etc.) residues. This toxicity compromises normal bowel flora efficiency as well as overall well-being. Under such circumstances, probiotic enhancement can be seen as a necessity. Among the many functions and benefits that a healthy bowel flora offers are the manufacture of some B vitamins, detoxification of the gut, recycling of estrogen, removal of excess cholesterol, and, above all, control of undesirable bacterial and fungal organisms. Many of these organisms can be involved in common infections, and a healthy gut ecology can possibly help reduce such infectious events, although without overall improvement in the individual’s nutritional and immune function, this improvement would be limited.
Where should a layperson start? Many natural food stores carry a confusing array of probiotic products.
Let me repeat my advice to seek professional help for complex cases. That said, readers should be aware that some products currently being offered are rubbish-such as combination cocktails of probiotic organisms-and it is difficult for the public to discern what is the best product. A summary of the features to look for is as follows:
- The product should contain a guarantee at time of purchase of a specific number of viable organisms, with colonizing potential intact, and should specify the strain(s) included.
- The product should require refrigeration.
- Probiotics should be sold in a darkened glass container, not plastic.
- In manufacture, it is important that the separation of the organisms from their supernatant material, or that in which they are cultured, is achieved without fracturing the delicate chains of organisms. Centrifuging achieves rapid but damaging separation. Slow filtration is less damaging but more expensive. The bottle label should indicate the separation method used. Retention of some of the supernatant material enhances colonization potentials.
These are the ideal criteria. Unfortunately, few manufacturers meet them. Above all, beware of strange “new” organisms, such as “soil” bacteria, for example, that are periodically touted as probiotic wonder foods. Our normal resident bacteria — like acidophilus and bifidus, and the usual transient yogurt bacteria, like bulgaricus and thermophilus — are probiotics of proven value. Suspect — unless shown otherwise — are additional organisms included in combination products that are probably included for commercial rather than health reasons.
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1 Beck, C., and Necheles, H., 1961, `Beneficial Effects of Administration of L. Acidophilus in Diarrheal and Other Intestinal Disorders,” American Journal of Gastroenterology 35, 522-533.
2 Bellomo, G., et al., 1980, “Controlled Double-Blind Trial of SF68 for Treatment of Diarrhoea in Pediatrics,” Current Therapeutics Research 28, 827-930.
3 Friend, B., and Shekani, K., 1984, “Nutritional and Therapeutic Aspects of Lactobacilli,” Journal of Applied Nutrition 36, 125-153.
4 Alm, L. et. al., 1982, “Effects of Fermentation on B Vitamin Content of Milk in Sweden,” Journal of Dairy Science 65, 353-359.
5 Collins, E., and Hardt, P., 1980, “Inhibition of Candida Albicans by L. Acidophilus,” Journal of Dairy Science 5:830.832 (May).
6 Gilbert, J., et. al., 1983, “Viricidal Effects of Lactobacillus and Yeast Fermentation,” Applied Environmental Microbiology 46:452-458.
7 Gorbach, S., et. al., 1987, “Successful Treatment of Relapsing Clostridium Difficile Colitis with Lactobacillus GG,” Lancet 1519 (26 December, 1987).
8 Rowland, I., and Grasso, P., 1975, “Degradation of N-Nitrosamines by Intestinal Bacteria,” Applied Microbiology, 7-12 (January).
9 Shehani, K., et. al., 1974, “Natural Antibiotic Activity of L. Acidophilus and Bulgaricus,” Cultured Dairy Products Journal 12 (2): 8-11.
Excerpts from Dr Chaitow’s book Candida Albicans — Could Yeast Be Your Problem?
Candida is a dimorphic organism, meaning that it has two separate identities: a yeast form and a fungal form. In the yeast form, it has no root; but in its fungal form, it produces rhizoids — long rootlike structures. These “roots” can actually penetrate the mucosa of the tissue in which they are growing, and can thus breach the boundary between the body proper and the self-contained world of the digestive tract. Substances that would otherwise have been kept out by this boundary can then enter the bloodstream.
It is worth noting that there is [an] almost totally ignored source of antibiotics and hormonal residues, to which all but vegetarians are exposed. This is, of course, commercially produced meat and poultry. Antibiotics and hormones are fed to animals in order to speed their growth, as well as to control the heightened susceptibility to disease that their unnatural existence generates. Anyone who has been regularly eating [commercial] beef, pork, veal, and chicken — and many people eat one or more of these daily — will have absorbed prodigious amounts of antibiotic and hormone residues. Low-level intake of these drugs over many years may have a devastating effect on the ability to control Candida, as would the regular use of these substances in the form of medications. Although this area has yet to be adequately researched, it does provide one more argument in favor of a vegetarian diet.