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Probiotics and prebiotics in gastrointestinal disorders

Fedorak, Richard N.; Madsen, Karen L.

Current Opinion in Gastroenterology: March 2004 - Volume 20 - Issue 2 - p 146-155
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Purpose of review This review summarizes the clinical efficacy of probiotics and prebiotics in gastrointestinal disorders and examines the mechanisms of action related to their therapeutic effect.

Recent findings The demonstration that immune and epithelial cells can discriminate between different microbial species has extended the known mechanism(s) of action of probiotics beyond simple barrier and antimicrobial effects. It has also confirmed that probiotic bacteria modulate mucosal and systemic immune activity and epithelial function. The progressive unraveling of these mechanisms of action has led to new credence for the use of probiotics and prebiotics in clinical medicine. Level I evidence now exists for the therapeutic use of probiotics in infectious diarrhea in children, recurrent Clostridium difficile–induced infections and postoperative pouchitis. Level II evidence is emerging for the use of probiotics in other gastrointestinal infections, prevention of postoperative bacterial translocation, irritable bowel syndrome, and in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease. Nevertheless, one consistent feature has emerged over the past year: Not all probiotic bacteria have similar therapeutic effects. Future clinical trials will need to incorporate this fact into trial planning and design.

Summary The use of probiotics and prebiotics as therapeutic agents for gastrointestinal disorders is rapidly moving into the “mainstream.” Mechanisms of action explain the therapeutic effects and randomized; controlled trials provide the necessary evidence for their incorporation into the therapeutic armamentarium.

Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Dr. Fedorak is supported by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada. Dr. Madsen is supported by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada, and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

Correspondence to Richard N. Fedorak, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta, Suite 205, College Plaza 8215, 112 Street Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2C8

Tel: 780 492 6941; fax: 780 492 8121; e-mail: richard.fedorak@ualberta.ca

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.