In today's climate, changed lifestyles and the increased use of antibiotics are significant factors that affect the preservation of a healthy intestinal microflora. The concept of probiotics is to restore and maintain a microflora advantageous to the human body. Probiotics are found in a number of fermented dairy products, infant formula, and dietary supplements. Basic research on probiotics has suggested several modes of action beneficial for the human body and clinical research has proven its preventive and curative features in different intestinal and extraintestinal diseases. Chronic diseases cause considerable disablement in patients and represent a substantial economic burden on healthcare resources. Research has demonstrated a crucial role of nutrition in the prevention of chronic disease. Thus, positive, strain-specific effects of probiotics have been shown in diarrheal diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, and Helicobacter pylori-induced gastritis, and in atopic diseases and in the prevention of cancer. As the majority of probiotics naturally inhabit the human intestinal microflora, their use has been regarded as very safe. However, in view of the range of potential benefits on health that might be achieved by the use of some probiotic bacteria, major and thorough evaluation is still necessary. In conclusion, probiotics act as an adjuvant in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of chronic diseases.
*Mucosal Immunology Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
†Dr von Hauner Children's Hospital, University of Munich, Munich, Germany
Supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health [PO1 DK33506, P30 DK40561, R37 HD12437 and RO1 DK70260 (WAW)] as well as from a Fulbright Scholarship by the United States Department of State (IJB) and a research fellowship from Mead Johnson (IJB).
Reprints: Allan W. Walker, MD, Mucosal Immunology Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital-East, 114 16 Street, Charlestown, MA 02129 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Received for publication September 29, 2005; accepted November 16, 2005