Global statistics has revealed that of the 9 million ‘under 5 years of age’ child deaths in 2008, nearly 40% were due to two most common infectious diseases – pneumonia and diarrhoea. This only goes to show that diarrhoea can be more fatal than AIDS, measles and malaria combined. India features among one of the 5 countries that accounts for nearly 50% of diarrhoeal deaths.
While much has been done to prevent the disease, mostly by improving hygiene, sanitation and including interventions such as ORS, zinc and also vaccines,we keep searching for newer remedies that can benefit by providing a synergistic effect when used in combination. Two recent reviews suggest that one way to battle diarrhoea could be by introducing probiotics or ‘friendly’ bacteria, an important part of our gut flora. Probiotics that modify the gut flora have gained a lot of importance and scientific evidence is quickly accumulating to validate their utility in simple gut-related problems such as constipation & diarrhoea to the more complicated cancers and allergies.
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics has been defined by FAO/WHO as live microorganisms that are intrinsically-resistant to the harsh environment of the stomach and reach the intestines in numbers sufficient enough to elicit a beneficial effect. In the intestine, they modify the environment in such a manner that the growth of the harmful disease-causing bacteria is suppressed & the balance of the gut flora restored. Given that 70% of the immune cells are harboured by the intestine, they are also known to build immune response.
Scientific evidence suggests that, with diarrhoea, probiotics act against pathogens by producing substances that inhibit their growth & increasing the ability to fight infection. The role of probiotics has been investigated in various disorders but the compelling evidence comes from trials conducted in the developed world in the area of diarrhoea.
A study was conducted in India on more than 3000 children at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata. The study evaluated the role of a probiotic strain lactobacillus casei shirota in preventing diarrhoea & the positive results observed brings a ray of hope for the use of probiotics.
As investigation in the area of probiotics continue their utility may far exceed beyond gut health and the coming years may find probiotics playing a significant role in lowering of cholesterol, preventing cancers, obesity and maybe even autism.
17 August 2011