Antibiotic Resistance and Probiotic Interactions

Antibiotic Resistance and Probiotic Interactions

Studies suggest that antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in the healthcare community that needs to be addressed from a scientific perspective. This paper reviews the nature of drug resistant strains of bacteria and the relationship between probiotic use and disease immunity.

Specifically the researcher explores the growing trends in antibiotic resistance and non-conventional therapies for combating bacterial infection, which include use of probiotics to relieve bacterial infection, inflammation and help restore the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. The researcher also reviews evidence supporting the use of probiotics in lieu of or as complementary therapy when antibiotics are used to treat certain illnesses.

The prevalence of antibiotic resistance has stimulated much interest in the use of probiotics or live microbial supplements to combat infections otherwise resistant to traditional antibiotic therapy. In recent years overuse of antibiotics have stimulated antibiotic resistant strains of disease rendering antibiotics useless in many cases (Diped, 2003).

While the discovery of antibiotics marked a changing point in modern medicine, in recent years scientists have begun to realize that the health benefits of antibiotics may be much more short lived than initially anticipated. As such researchers are struggling to find complementary and alternative methods for treating drug resistant forms of disease that antibiotic therapy once proved sufficient for.

Thus far there is ample evidence in the natural health community supporting a variety of non-conventional approaches to disease treatment (Diped, 2003). One of the more commonly used methods for combating bacterial infection and general health disturbances in the body includes the use of probiotic therapy. Probiotics are a natural health food or supplement that help restore the balance of healthy bacteria or flora in the human body (Chen & Walker, 2005).

Probiotics may also facilitate re-colinization of the gut and intestine reducing symptoms in patients with certain diseases and helping reduce inflammation which is often a symptom of disease and in some cases, a cause for disease (Chen & Walker, 2005). Probiotic supplementation has proven in some situation ideal as an adjunct therapy but also as a single treatment for many bacterial infections and other imbalances in the body.

Despite growing interest there is not much scientific data available at this time documenting the effects and benefits of probiotic use for combating microbes and bacterial infections, though there is evidence supporting their use in some disease situations (Ziebuhr, Xiao, Coulibaly, Schwarz & Dandekar, 2004). Because there has been a long historical documentation however of the wide reaching health benefits of probiotic use within the natural health community, scientists are eager to learn more about the potential benefits of probiotic use against drug resistant strains of bacteria (Ziebuhr, et. al, 2004).

This paper will focus on the history and prevalence of antibiotic drug resistance globally and the potential interactions probiotic therapy may have on disease. The researcher will also focus on the potential benefits of probiotic therapy in a general sense in an attempt to determine whether probiotic therapy may be useful in cases where antibiotic resistance has affected a patient's ability to combat disease.

Section 3:Literature Review

Studies now reveal that much of the bacteria previously susceptible to antibiotics now demonstrate some form of resistance; in some cases the same bacteria are demonstrating resistance to multiple antibiotics, presenting health care professionals new challenges (Levy, 1992). Diseases that were once easily eliminated with a short course of antibiotics are now proving resistant, despite the facts that antibiotics were only discovered 50 years ago (Levy, 1992).

When antibiotics were first discovered they were considered a mini panacea if you will, used to help combat and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in one form or another. Scientists have since learned how to purify antibiotic agents to treat a host of diseases resulting from microorganisms (Levy, 1992).

Many diseases once considered fatal are now easily treated thanks to antibiotics (Levy, 1992). Unfortunately the miracle that once was antibiotics is now fading, as bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic administration. Increasing use and prolonged use of antibiotics have enabled bacteria to cope, adapt and change to their environment so they can survive (Levy, 1992). Part of the problem is the medical communities over prescription or reliance on antibiotics to cure illnesses for which antibiotics have no effect, like viruses (Levy, 1992). Constant introduction of antibiotic agents can weaken their effectiveness with time even if they are not prescribed for legitimate bacteria. The body responds and adapts, becoming more immune to certain agents like antibiotics. Bacteria also become more and more immune to antibiotics with frequent exposure.

Hence bacteria have become drug resistant in many cases, developing genetic identities that now surpass the effects of antibiotic therapy posing new health risks for human beings susceptible to illness. Bacteria referred to as plasmid enhanced are self replicating forms of DNA that have adapted genetic traits that allow them to survive in the face of antibiotics (figure 1).

Plasmids actually co-exist with bacteria enabling bacterial hosts to become antibiotic resistant and their numbers are increasing; like bacteria plasmids multiply enhancing their parasitic action and the potential negative effects they may have on the human infected by them (Levy, 1992). Antibiotic resistance is nothing new however; scientists discovered soon after utilizing penicillin that resistant strains of bacteria began to form (Levy, 1992). Studies show the more antibiotics are used, particularly for non-bacterial illnesses, the more prevalent resistant forms of bacteria become (Levy, 1992). Because of this it is more important than ever that scientists discover new tools for combating bacterial infections that have become resistant to antibiotic therapy, or the likelihood of bacterial disease epidemics in the future is likely to rise as bacteria continue to gain immunity from modern treatment methods.

Probiotic micro flora often demonstrate health benefits including maintenance of the gastrointestinal tract and immune system. Probiotic maintenance may help prevent or address inflammation occurring in the immune system or gastrointestinal system resulting from the presence of bacterial infection. Several promising new strategies support the use of probiotics to combat bacterial infections (Zierbuhr, et. al, 2004).

Chen & Walker (2005) confirm that probiotics may provide suitable alternative therapy for prevention and treatment particularly of gastrointestinal disease states as more and more therapeutic failures are realized associated with increased antibiotic resistance in patients. Further the researchers confirm that probiotics and use of prebiotics can help stimulate "health-promoting indigenous flora" in the gastrointestinal tract which can in turn affect the "pathogen colonization and expression of disease" (Chen & Walker, 2005:80).

Further, probiotics or live flora given orally can allow healthy colonization of the colon (Chen & Walker, 2005). Probiotoics serve then as "functional foods" or supplements that "activate the mucosal immune system and prevent pathogen colonization and translocation by strengthening the mucosal barrier, interfering with pathogen colonization and producing antibacterial substances" (Chen & Walker, 2005: 81). Further probiotics may work best according to the researchers when combined with prebiotics which are non-digestible carbohydrates fermented (Chen & Walker, 2005). Probiotics and prebiotics may work synergistically to help alleviate multiple conditions including gastroenteritis and diarrhea, particularly in young children (Chen & Walker, 2005).

A recent article published by the American Scientist points out that new strategies are definitely necessary to combat antibiotic resistance; further the researchers point out that antibiotic resistance poses a significant health threat to the public even if purely an example of biological evolution through "natural selection" (American Scientist, 2003). Probiotics are in essence, live bacteria that one can administer orally with the "goal of preventing colonization by pathogenic bacteria" (American Scientist, 2003: 289). Thus far however the results remain controversial; some studies point out that probiotics prevent colonization of the nose for example by certain bacteria, however also suggest probiotics may be unable to prevent recurrence of certain gut conditions caused by bacteria (American Scientist, 2003: 289). Regardless, there are studies supporting the use of probiotics to combat certain forms of bacteria, if not all forms of bacteria affecting various parts of the human body and immune system.

Antibiotics have historically been beneficial for fighting off severe infections; however they also have the unwanted side effect of destroying healthy bacteria in the gut and reproductive tract (Diped, 2003). This in turn may adversely affect digestion and ones overall health, increasing susceptibility to other disease. Fortunately use of probiotics may also help improve and restore balance in these situations, mitigating the effects of antibiotic use whether in the short or long-term (Diped, 2003). In some cases probiotics may be considered as the first line of defense against infection prior to administration of antibiotics; many physicians are adopting a more conservative approach which suggests that antibiotics be used as a second or third line rather than a first line of defense (Diped, 2003).

Multiple complementary or alternative therapies can often be combined with probiotic use to help facilitate positive results. Generally probiotics are credited with anti-inflammatory, anti-infective and health promoting qualities that can help restore equilibrium in patients who demonstrate immune deficiencies or other illnesses (Diped, 2003).