The probiotics story
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My question is about probiotics. I heard that it is good to take them when you're on antibiotics, to replace antibodies that the antibiotics destroy. Then I heard it is good to take them all the time. Please inform me and other readers if we should be taking probiotics. -- P.L.
ANSWER: Probiotics are living bacteria or fungi added to foods or put in pills in the hope that these good microbes will become the predominant organisms of the digestive tract and will cure illnesses caused by bad microbes. Some of the good germs are lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and saccharomyces.
The illness you describe is Clostridium difficile infection, which also goes by the names antibiotic-associated colitis and pseudomembranous colitis. In this condition, antibiotics taken for some purpose not related to the digestive tract kill off good bacteria. That gives the bad bacteria a chance to become the majority bacteria. The bad bacterium is C. difficile. It leads to diarrhea, which can be profuse. Stopping the antibiotic usually stops the diarrhea. If it doesn't, then antibiotics that specifically target C. difficile are prescribed. Probiotics have been used for this condition.
Probiotics also are used to combat constipation, to calm irritable bowel syndrome and to cure a condition called bacterial vaginosis. They have been proposed as well for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
An exciting new discovery is that probiotics might reduce artery hardening -- arteriosclerosis, the underlying problem for most heart attacks and many strokes. The reputed effect comes from the body's decreased production of a substance called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide). If this theory proves to be true, it will be a major breakthrough in curing some major diseases.
Taking probiotics while taking antibiotics has been proposed by some as a preventive step for protection against C. difficile infection. It's not standard practice.
You don't need to take probiotics on a regular basis.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have never seen you recommend acupuncture for treatment of osteoarthritis.
It does wonders for joints, especially the knees. It takes several treatments before the effect is felt. -- D.R.
ANSWER: In Canada and the U.S., acupuncture is called alternative medicine. In the Far East, it has been standard medicine for many centuries.
The theory is that meridians, 14 major linear paths, exist on the body. The acupuncturist knows where these lines are and which organs are related to which meridians. Thin, metallic needles are inserted into precise places on specific meridians based on the patient's complaints. Stimulating the needles activates the production of internal energy that blunts pain and promotes healing.
I haven't said much about acupuncture because I don't know much about it. I know doctors who have incorporated it into their practices, and 42 states, along with the District of Columbia, award licenses to practice acupuncture if the candidate has fulfilled those states' requirements.
I'm glad you've obtained relief from your osteoarthritis through acupuncture. I don't believe it hurts anyone, and I do believe it helps some.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Does anyone make a home cholesterol device that gives you a reading of your cholesterol? If so, where do I get one? Should diabetics wear socks? What material should they be?
Are there any foods, vitamins or supplements that lower blood sugar and cholesterol at the same time? -- J.
ANSWER: I don't know of any device that provides home testing of cholesterol. Diabetics have to be careful about feet infections. They don't have to wear socks. It they prefer to wear them, the common sock materials are up to them to choose. And finally I don't know of any food, vitamin or supplement that lowers both cholesterol and blood sugar simultaneously. You pitched me three curveballs, and I struck out.
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Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.
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