'Good' bacteria can save severely burned patients

Probiotic dairy products may help reduce sepsis and cut the risk of death from acute burns.

fire in village 298 ap  (photo credit: AP)
fire in village 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
"Bio" yoghurts and other milk products containing Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria, as well as pills containing these and related strains of bacteria, have long been known to be beneficial to health. Eating them regularly can treat and even prevent urinary infections and stomach problems caused by taking antibiotics, as these bacteria replace the helpful pathogens destroyed by antibiotics. Now researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center's burns unit and skin bank in Beersheba have found that probiotic dairy products may help reduce sepsis and cut the risk of death from acute burns, suggests a study from Israel. Their findings have been published in Burns. The researchers, headed by Dr. Lior Koren, studied the effects of probiotic supplementation on 28 patients with second- and third-degree burns on up to 70 percent of their bodies. The retrospective cohort study recruited 56 burn patients. Half were given placebo and half were given supplements. Twenty-five received capsules containing Lactobacillus acidophilus (Solgar Company) and three received Actimel yogurt containing Lactobacillus casei. At the end of the study, the researchers report that, while no significant difference was observed in mortality with respect to all the participants, among those with burns covering 41-70% of the body a significant benefit was observed; in that subgroup none of the patients died, compared to five in the corresponding control group. "Our findings suggest that in acute burns, lactobacillus bacteria food additives may be clinically beneficial in patients with a total burned body surface area of 41% to 70," Koren wrote in the journal. "It is our impression that lactobacillus bacteria supplement may become an addition to the routine regimen for reducing sepsis and mortality in acute extensively burned patients," added Koren. Despite these promising results, the researchers stress that more studies, particularly comprehensive, prospective, controlled and blind studies were needed. "Our research was a retrospective cohort study," the researchers wrote. "Due to the nature of the study, the lactobacillus bacteria supplement was not given in ideal conditions. The lactobacillus bacteria were given in two ways and the supplement was given, on average, 8.25 days after the injury... These constraints may have reduced the gains of the supplement." Most foods containing probiotic bacteria are found in the refrigerated section of supermarkets, as the bacteria is destroyed by heat and other processing conditions. This has given the dairy sector, already used to handling live bacteria for the manufacture of yoghurt, a major advantage in probiotic foods. But increasing research has focused on protecting probiotics during processing and expanding the food categories available to prebiotics. Such an avenue of research has led companies like Cell Biotech from Korea to use a dual coating to protect probiotics against oxygen, acid, moisture and high temperatures in emerging new product categories such as breakfast cereals and smoothies. Other approaches are also being explored, with scientists looking at improving probiotic viability by using whey protein gel particles or prebiotic fibres. GIVE BLOOD ON VACATION The Mashadis, an extended family of Iranian Jews from Great Neck, New York, recently came to Israel to donate blood to Magen David Adom. The 200 relatives came for a vacation at the Herod Hotel in Eilat and 32 bar and bat mitzva celebrations as well. Last year, the Mashadis came three days before the outbreak of the Second War in Lebanon. One woman specially asked that her blood be given to the Israel Defense Forces, and after the war started, her pint of blood was almost certainly used to save soldiers, says Jonathan Feldstein, the Israel representative of the American Friends of Magen David Adom, which organized the trip. Last year, the extended family donated 47 units, and this year they beat that number, which still stands as the single largest blood donation to AFMDA in a day. Since January 1, AFMDA has helped organize over two dozen blood drives for US tourists, and helped MDA collect nearly 350 units of blood. CUT THE MEGA-C If you gulp down large doses of vitamin C in the hope of protecting yourself from the common cold, you're wasting your time, according to new research at the Australian National University and the University of Helsinki. The review appears in a recent issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of an international organization that evaluates medical research. Their updated review of 30 clinical studies on ascorbic acid was conducted over several decades, and included more than 11,000 people who took daily doses of at least 200 milligrams. The conclusion was that taking it does little to reduce the length or severity of a cold. However, they found that people exposed to high stress - such as marathon runners, skiers and soldiers on sub-arctic exercises - were 50% less likely to catch a cold if they took a daily dose. For most people, the benefit of the popular remedy is so slight when it comes to colds that it is not worth the effort or expense, the authors say. "It doesn't make sense to take vitamin C every day to lessen the chance of catching a cold," said co-author Prof. Harri Hemilä of the public health department of the university in Finland. Since the discovery of vitamin C in the 1930s, controversy regarding its efficacy in treating ailments from lung infections to colds has surrounded it. In the 1970s, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling popularized its regular use. His book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, encouraged people to take 1,000 milligrams daily. Regardless of the evidence against it, vitamin C remains popular because many people want to believe it works against colds. Hemilä said he sees little use in further study for colds for adults. However, he would like to see more studies on vitamin C and colds in children and vitamin C and pneumonia. Vitamin C is not a panacea, but it is not useless either, Hemilä said. "Pauling was overly optimistic, but he wasn't completely wrong."