With stark warnings about antibiotic resistance triggering “the end of modern medicine”, new studies into the effect of probiotics on our health could provide an antibiotic alternative

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We’ve been cautioned against the overuse of antibiotics many times before, and antibiotic resistance has been blamed for everything from a rise in adult acne  to cases of MRSA in hospitals, but England’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies wasn’t for mincing her words on the topic last week, declaring that we’re currently heading for a “post antibiotic apocalypse”. Many people currently die of drug resistant infections (roughly 700,000 globally), but generalised antimicrobial resistance could make even minor surgery life threatening in the future, not to mention  caesarean sections  and cancer treatment. Dame Davies states that up to a third of antibiotic prescriptions in the UK are likely not needed, and that greater education and awareness of antibiotic resistance is required to combat the “hidden” epidemic.

Aside from simply not prescribing antibiotics apart from when urgently needed, new studies looking into the impact of probiotics on our gut microbiota and pathogens (harmful disease causing bacteria) could potentially indicate a positive opportunity in the treatment of bacterial disease. Three new studies looking into the effect of water-based live probiotic supplement Symprove  in particular show that probiotic bacteria has the capacity to suppress pathogenic bacteria, while at the same time fostering a healthier gut environment.

Researchers from the University College London School of Pharmacy and Pro Digest in Belgium proved that Symprove bacteria could inhibit the growth of pathogens such as MRSA, C. difficile, Shigella sonnei and Escherichia coli (AIEC), while also boosting healthy gut bacteria, which is commonly wiped out alongside pathogenic bacteria after a course of antibiotics, often increasing the risk of reinfection. Symprove, meanwhile, strengthened the existing gut environment while also controlling pathogenic bacteria, and effects were seen after just one dose. The probiotic works by lowering the pH of the gut to create a more acidic environment in which pathogenic bacteria cannot survive, yet advantageous gut bacteria thrives.

Professor Simon Gaisford of UCL underlined that the new studies show real promise where bacterial diseases treatment is concerned:

“This is a powerful first step towards using beneficial live bacteria as part of the management of patients with potentially life-threatening infections.”

Dr Bu Hayee of Kings College is also optimistic not only about the probiotic’s potential for decreasing the incidences of bacterial infection, but also its impact on our health in general:

“With an unshakeable grounding in scientific rigor, Symprove is the only product which I am happy to be associated with and have witnessed first-hand the powerful beneficial effect. I am keen to take Symprove’s latest findings to C. difficile patients to help in the management of this difficult condition, and am excited that we would not be advising a drug, but helping with a good technology to adjust their microbiome”.

At this point we’re in no way suggesting that you bin antibiotics prescribed by your doctor in favour of probiotics, and further research is needed into the impact of Symprove probiotics on pathogen control, but it presents a beacon of hope in the face of a medical apocalypse.

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