Drinking to Your Health with Probiotic Yogurt?

More evidence in the debate over the benefits of “good” bacteria in yogurt.

April 30, 2008
That spoonful of yogurt may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria to aid digestion.              
[Credit: Adam Hadhazy]
That spoonful of yogurt may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria to aid digestion. [Credit: Adam Hadhazy]

The yogurt section in the grocery store has gotten pretty complicated. Instead of just choosing between regular and light, or fruit on the bottom versus premixed varieties, customers can now select what kind of bacteria they wish to devour with each cold spoonful.

Yogurt manufacturers have long marketed the “live, active cultures” in their products, but Dannon, Yoplait and other industry giants have recently introduced new brands of specialized yogurts containing trademarked microbial strains. Scientists continue to conduct research into how these microbes may contribute to healthy living. A study published in the British Medical Journal last year supported the medicinal benefits of yogurt, though in a limited setting. It showed that geriatric hospital patients who drank a probiotic yogurt beverage were less likely to suffer from diarrhea caused by ongoing antibiotic treatment. But some nutritionists remain skeptical about the potential advantages that probiotics can offer most people.

Despite its narrow range of participants, the study confirmed that probiotic yogurt aided many of those involved. “We have shown that simply giving a probiotic drink to elderly patients who are prescribed antibiotics reduces their risk of getting diarrhea,” says Mary Hickson, a research dietician at Imperial College in London and the lead author of the study.

Gastrointestinal illness is a common side effect in an antibiotic’s battle against bacterial infection. Antibiotics don’t just go after the bad guys — they also kill some of the beneficial or neutral place-holding flora in our digestive tracts. This collateral damage allows deleterious organisms to establish themselves, often inflicting abdominal distress and discomfort as a result. Yogurt, like other “probiotic” foods, helps to promote the growth of favorable bacteria in our digestive tracts. These microorganisms assist us in absorbing nutrients from our food and also occupy valuable real estate so that pathogens cannot proliferate and make us sick.

The British study monitored 113 patients taking antibiotics predominantly for respiratory ailments or prophylactic reasons before or after surgery. During antibiotic treatment, subjects consumed two daily servings of a Dannon probiotic yogurt drink called Actimel. Half of the participants drank a sterile milkshake as a placebo instead. Stool samples were analyzed for solidity and for the presence of a particularly harmful bacterium, Clostridium difficile. This opportunistic microbe afflicts about one in five hospital patients on antibiotics.

The study found that just over one in 10 of those patients ingesting the probiotic product was stricken with diarrhea, but none caught C. difficile. In contrast, a third of those on the placebo had diarrhea, and 17 percent came down with a case of C. difficile.

“This is exciting research as it provides evidence for a new treatment that can be put into practice now and could save the health service money,” says Hickson.

Her paper refers to a previous study led by Lorraine Kyne of University College Dublin in Ireland, which indicated that hospital patients with bouts of C. difficile incur almost $3,700 each in additional expenses. Increased hospital stays and antibiotic reinforcements to eradicate the infection lead to these higher bills, but fortunately for sufferers, insurance picks up the tab. All told though, Kyne’s paper conservatively estimates the annual cost overruns related to C. difficile as $1.1 billion in the United States alone. Comparatively, a full course of the Actimel supplements in Hickson’s study that help ward off the malignant microbe only costs about $100.

For the Dannon Company, the growing buzz about probiotics has translated into impressive sales figures for Actimel, which is sold under the name DanActive in the United States. In 2007, the product raked in approximately $1.8 billion in worldwide sales. As Dannon unveils new probiotic lines of yogurt, Michael Neuwirth, the senior director of public relations at the company, points to 30 published scientific studies that bolster the health benefits of DanActive and other probiotic foods.

But some consider Dannon’s claims to be dubious at best, and the impact of the British study as rather limited in scope. “It’s good news if you’re over 70 and so sick you need to be hospitalized and prescribed antibiotics,” says David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Schardt also states in an e-mail that contrary to Dannon’s position, no studies conclusively show that DanActive “will help the people depicted in their commercials and on their Web site — harried mothers, active grandparents, busy kids — keep from getting sick.”

Others have also taken issue with Dannon’s marketing strategies. In January, a Los Angeles firm served Dannon with a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company intentionally hyped its probiotic wares and made millions based on false claims.

Nonetheless, Roberta Lee, the medical director at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing, a holistic service center run by Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, is convinced that probiotics are beneficial, especially when used in concert with other treatments. She says that probiotics have appeared in clinical settings in the past and their prevalence is on the rise.

“Seventy percent of our immune response is directed toward catching foreign invaders introduced through our guts,” says Lee. As probiotics may offer a helping hand in tamping down unwelcome bodily invaders, Lee states: “I would be happy to recommend yogurt to a patient.”

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About the Author



Martha McMullin says:

Two years ago I took my mother out of a nursing home for a variety of reasons. The main reason was a chronic year long intestinal C. difficile infection. It made her weak and literally a bed ridden invalid. That, coupled with her mild alzheimers proved to be more than I could tolerate on my daily visits. She had no strength to even sit up on her own.

C. difficile is spread through spores and requires absolute pristine cleanliness of one’s surroundings and basically isolating patients from each other. This is not the case with most nursing homes or hospitals.

I took on this task of rehabilitating my mother reasoning that I can do a better job. I also researched C. difficile and learned about probiotics after months of reading. Meanwhile as I was educating myself, the medicine for C. difficile was costing me $1300 for a 2 week dose. After a month, the disease came back again. It was a vicious cycle even though I bleached and cleaned and air purified and wore latex gloves.

I also learned that most probiotics get annihilated in the stomach before they even get into the digestive tract to do any good.

Then one day I was reading a forum where a two yr. old boy was so infected with C. difficile that the doctors held out no hope for him. His mother (a doctor herself) read about Lactobacillus GG. The “GG” is very important here because it was developed by two doctors Sherwood Gorbach and Barry Goldin. A site reference here:

This is the only probiotic that I found after months of research, does not get destroyed by stomach acids.

To make a long story short, the boy got better and my mom totally recovered within a month. She has been free of this horrible condition for a year and a half. I give her two capsules a week for maintenence and insurance. To emphasize how this probiotic has helped, she is now physically very independent, does not rely on a wheelchair, walker or any other means of support. Even her cognative reasoning has become better because she is not plagued with massive diarrhea every two hours which just drained the life out of her.

Lactobacillus GG is truly a miracle probiotic and would definitely save hospitals and institutions thousands of dollars on pharmaceutical drugs. Yes, all these yogurts are nutritious in their own way, but they do not hold a candle to this powerful probiotic.

Alan says:

With regard to probiotics, I can truly say that these products work. IN the summer of 2003 I have a number of medical issues that required antibiotic treatment, ever since that summer my digestive tract never functioned correctly. I had constant bouts of constipation, gas and abdominal pain. I continuiously heard of the pro-biotic claims and had taken a lactobasilius acidophilis supplement, but never any other strains. I then began eating 1 6 oz yogurt a day with 5 different strains of bacteria and I kid you not, my digestive issues cleared up completly within 4 days.

I know have no more pain, bloating and gas and feel like a completely different person. Also, because I don;t have the pain, I am eating less (because I don’t feel like I need to eat to move things along) and have lost around 6 pounds. Clearly we have too many chemicals and antibiotics in our world today that kill off our natural flora whihc needs to be replaced. I find these products amazing.

denilson says:

Se você está procurando Clinica Médica, clinica santa clara visite

Probiotics says:

Handle probiotic properly since these living organisms are very sensitive to temperature, light, and pH.

Ann says:

Now I love probiotics! I had tried Danon Activia when it first came on the market and I didn’t notice anything different and stopped eating. I never had any intestinal issues except for food poisoning and it didn’t help me with that, nor did Danon Dan Activ recently. But I now DO USE probiotics every day as it remarkably makes a difference in my life since I had continual pain since pelvic surgery/hysterectomy. It took me a year to figure this out, but probiotics, have probably restored lactic acid that I was missing. I believe I had pelvic fibromyalgia (something like that) as a huge improvement occurred once I started using an acidophilus pill. Since that I started trying the new yogurts. Yoplait Plus helps and so does Dan Active, both having somewhat different probiotic combinations. Vitamin D3 initially helped, but the lactic acid seems key to improving, sometimes totally eliminating my pelvic/bladder pain. Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage, works also, as long as it’s not pasteurized.

Charlotte says:

To Phototour.minneapolis,
Thank you so much for your comments and website posting. My mother has had several bouts of C. diff and I started her on Culterelle myself along with the latest dose of antibiotics the doctor prescribed and the diarea has slowed to a minimum in only three days. Amazing. Did you stop giving your mother anti-biotics or would you suggest finishing the month supply and keeping her on the Culterelle of course too? ( I know you can only tell me how you treated your mother and I will also consult with her doctor before doing anything).
Best Regards,

Matt says:

I am going to have to remember this part of the post for sure,

“We have shown that simply giving a probiotic drink to elderly patients who are prescribed antibiotics reduces their risk of getting diarrhea,”

This may be able to help my grandparents. Hard subject to talk about but as long as it helps right?

It is hard to believe some of the things that companies like Dannon say when they are doing marketing.

Donna says:

Thank you everybody for your informative responses. I know some of you have suffered for a really long time to finally come up with something that works and on behalf of everyone who’s benefitted from your postings (but maybe didn’t write back) THANK YOU!!! It was a kind gesture that took time and effort and I for one am grateful.

My 49 year old sister has been diagnosed with C Diff and – wow, what a “crappy” type of infection! I am excited to share all of your views on Probiotics and I’m REALLY excited to see how she responds to Lactobacillus GG which seems like the only one that might be effective while she’s currently still taking antibiotics.

Thanks again everyone and I wish you all good health!

Ed Harvey says:

Martha McMullin is so full of it. She was booted out of the house because she had nothing better to do than to Not Work, sat around the house and did nothing. She is a cronic liar from the get go… don’t listen to her.

arae says:

thanks for sharing information… i hohe you update

Ed Harvey says:

Martha McMullin has totally lied… There was no way that she spent $1300 every two weeks on medication. First off she does not have a job, no source of income, and her mother only gets $1700 a month from Social Security. She is feeding all of you a bunch of bull. Oh I believe she spent 2 years researching… that’s what she does best, sits around and surfs. That’s the only drive that she has, she has no other drive for anything else… She used her mother for her income because she refused to work… What a worthless being on this earth…

I will right away grasp your rss as I can not find your email subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please permit me understand so that I may subscribe. Thanks.

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