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Can Probiotics Help Combat C. Difficile?


Clostridium Difficile infection (CDI) has become such problem that a hospital in Vancouver B.C. has started employing a C. difficile detection dog.  Angus, a two year old English springer spaniel, can track the scent of the potentially dangerous bacterium, helping the hospital eradicate C. difficile that may be missed during regular cleaning. 

There were almost half a million CDIs in the United States in 2011, and approximately 29,000 patients died within 30 days of infection, according to a study released last year by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). Due to CDI risk, the agency has classified the bacterium as an "urgent threat."  C. difficile has become such a problem because patients that take antibiotics are killing the “normal flora” in their intestinal tract that have a role in protecting the body from infection. If there is C. difficile present, there is a chance that taking antibiotics can kill these "good" bacteria, allowing C. difficile to multiply and release toxins that damage the cells lining the intestinal wall. 

Research has shown that C.difficile infections can be combated in two ways. The first option is more antibiotics, like vancomycin or Flagyl, however, that leads us back to where we started by clearing our “good” gut bacteria or worse, developing antibiotic resistant C.difficile. The second option is with “good” gut bacteria, using stool transplant or probiotics. This more natural approach has been advocated because it repopulates the gut with good bacteria and avoids compounding the CDI problem due to antibiotic resistance. 

The use of probiotics to treat C. difficile was the topic of recent research at the University of Virginia.  At UVA, Dr. Erica L. Buonomo led a research group from the department of Immunology and Cancer Biology that studied why probiotics may be a better and more convenient way to treat C.difficile. 

Dr. Buonomo found that when our gut is cleared of gut bacteria, they also remove the production of important proteins called Interleukins that recruit immune cells to protect the lining of the gut from “bad” bacteria.  According to Dr. Buonomo, the interaction of Interleukins produced by “good bacteria” with our immune cells is very important to "maintaining the health of our gut lining, which creates a barrier against C. difficile. It also prevents bacteria from spreading to other sites in the body, so if you have a breakdown in the barrier, you can have a septic response or bacteria in your blood or in other systemic organs." 

Our own research at SuperBio with prebiotic compounds such as Spirulina has also demonstrated that Spirulina can promote interleukin production. In doing so, it can work synergistically with probiotics to promote gut immunity. This suggests that using a probiotic-prebiotic combination can enhance the immune modulating effect of probiotics.  There is also further research, although still in its early stages, that supports the benefits of probiotics like lactobacilli and bifidobacter strains that are capable of modulating levels of interleukins.

The study also suggests that rather than treating gut infections with drugs, like antibiotics, it may be more prudent to treat it with probiotics that can repopulate the gut and reinstate a microbiome that can maintain and improve gut immunity.