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Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Feb;71(2):405-11.

Effects of probiotic bacteria on diarrhea, lipid metabolism, and carcinogenesis: a review of papers published between 1988 and 1998.

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  • 1Division of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology, Wageningen University, Netherlands.


We reviewed the evidence from human intervention studies for the health effects of probiotic bacteria, ie, live bacteria that survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract and have beneficial effects on the host. Of the 49 studies reviewed, 26 dealt with the prevention or treatment of diarrheal disease, 9 with the prevention of cancer or of the formation of carcinogens, 7 with the lowering of serum cholesterol, and 7 with the stimulation of the immune system. The most widely studied probiotic bacteria were Lactobacillus GG (22 studies), Lactobacillus acidophilus (16 studies), Bifidobacterium bifidum (6 studies), and Enterococcus faecium (7 studies). Intake of Lactobacillus GG consistently shortened the diarrheal phase of rotavirus infection by 1 d. However, evidence for the prevention by Lactobacillus GG and other probiotics of diarrhea due to viral or bacterial infections was less strong. Effects of probiotics on the immune system are inconclusive because of the variety of outcome variables reported. Cholesterol lowering by L. acidophilus was shown in some but not all studies; cholesterol lowering by E. faecium seems to be transient. Two studies of one research group showed a smaller recurrence of bladder tumors in patients after treatment with Lactobacillus casei; these results await confirmation. The production of mutagens after a meal might be reduced by the concomitant intake of probiotics, but the relevance of this finding is unclear. In conclusion, consumption of foods containing Lactobacillus GG may shorten the course of rotavirus infection. Other health effects of probiotic bacteria have not been well established. Well-designed placebo-controlled studies with validated outcome variables are needed to determine the health effects of probiotics.

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