Probiotic Study Says Products Could Be Fatal for Pancreatitis Patients

<"">Probiotic yogurts and drinks made with so-called “good bacteria” may be fatal for those suffering from severe pancreatitis, Dutch researchers said Thursday.  Over twice as many patients with severe pancreatitis who were given probiotic supplements to prevent infections died compared to those receiving placebos, the researchers reported in a study in the medical journal, Lancet.  “The adverse effects of probiotics noted here were unexpected,” Hein Gooszen and colleagues at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands wrote adding that, “Several studies have associated probiotics with a reduction in infectious pancreatitis.”

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can precede pancreatic cancer.  The condition usually develops and subsides quickly but can destroy the pancreas’ function if untreated.  While Gooszen did not to link probiotics to any other condition, he warned that probiotics should not be given to severely ill patients with organ failure and on a feeding tube.

Probiotic is a term that means “for life.”  The human intestinal tract is filled with a huge amount—several pounds—of helpful, probiotic bacteria, which contain live microorganisms, or “good” bacteria, that colonize the human intestine.  This is generally considered a good thing since the human body is designed to have symbiotic relationships with probiotic bacteria that aid in digestion and destroy harmful microorganisms.  Probiotics are also considered important to immune system function, possibly play other beneficial roles, and can out-compete “bad” bacteria that may cause disease.  Probiotics have also been used as a treatment for pancreatitis.  Science indicates that as the body ages, the intestinal tract becomes more rigid at only accepting intestinal flora it recognizes; it is difficult for body to recognize or tolerate new good bacteria.  Also, good bacteria decrease; therefore, many consider it important to supplement with probiotics—which are sold as supplements and occur naturally in many fermented foods including yogurt and some juices—initiating this process early on in life.

Complications are common in pancreatitis and about one-fifth of all patients with pancreatitis develop a severe form of the disease that raises the risk of death, mainly due to infections.  In the study of 296 people with similarly acute forms of pancreatitis, one group received a placebo and the other, a mixture of probiotic supplements.  The number of patients developing infections was similar; however, 24 volunteers died in the probiotic group compared to nine in the placebo group, researchers said.

The scientist said they did not know exactly why probiotics may be harmful but thought the supplements may boost oxygen demand, worsening already reduced blood flow.  Other experts said that while probiotics are safe, they should not be given to patients with severe acute pancreatitis, an ailment largely due to gallstones or heavy alcohol use that has no satisfactory, specific treatment.  “Probiotics are safe and may be beneficial in many people who are not critically ill,” Robert Sutton, a researcher at Royal Liverpool University Hospital, who was not involved in the study, said.

Anecdotal evidence suggests friendly bacteria help a variety of digestive problems; however, in the U.S., no health claims for probiotics have been approved.

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