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Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2001 Jun 15;58(12):1101-9.

Probiotics: "living drugs".

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  • 1Medicinal Chemistry, School of Pharmacy, University of Washington, Box 357610, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


The uses, mechanisms of action, and safety of probiotics are discussed. Probiotics are live microorganisms or microbial mixtures administered to improve the patient's microbial balance, particularly the environment of the gastrointestinal tract and the vagina. The yeast Saccharomyces boulardii and the bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus, strain GG, have shown efficacy in clinical trials for the prevention of antimicrobial-associated diarrhea. Other probiotics that have demonstrated at least some promise as prophylaxis for this type of diarrhea are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum, and Enterococcus faecium. The use of S. boulardii as an adjunctive treatment to therapy with metronidazole or vancomycin has been found in controlled studies to decrease further recurrences of Clostridium difficile-associated disease. Other gastrointestinal disorders for which probiotics have been studied include traveler's diarrhea, acute infantile diarrhea, and acute diarrhea in adults. Several Lactobacillus species given in yogurt or in tablet or suppository form have shown clinical efficacy as a treatment for vaginal infections. Lactobacillus strains have also been examined as a treatment for urinary-tract infections. Putative mechanisms of action of probiotics include production of pathogen-inhibitory substances, inhibition of pathogen attachment, inhibition of the action of microbial toxins, stimulation of immunoglobulin A, and trophic effects on intestinal mucosa. The available probiotics are considered nonpathogenic, but even benign microorganisms can be infective when a patient is severely debilitated or immunosuppressed. Probiotics have demonstrated an ability to prevent and treat some infections. Effective use of probiotics could decrease patients' exposure to antimicrobials. Additional controlled studies are needed to clearly define the safety and efficacy of these agents.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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