Probiotics and prebiotics in gastrointestinal disorders

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Purpose of reviewThis review summarizes the clinical efficacy of probiotics and prebiotics in gastrointestinal disorders and examines the mechanisms of action related to their therapeutic effect.Recent findingsThe demonstration that immune and epithelial cells can discriminate between different microbial species has extended the known mechanism(s) of action of probiotics beyond simple barrier and antimicrobial effects. It has also confirmed that probiotic bacteria modulate mucosal and systemic immune activity and epithelial function. The progressive unraveling of these mechanisms of action has led to new credence for the use of probiotics and prebiotics in clinical medicine. Level I evidence now exists for the therapeutic use of probiotics in infectious diarrhea in children, recurrent Clostridium difficile–induced infections and postoperative pouchitis. Level II evidence is emerging for the use of probiotics in other gastrointestinal infections, prevention of postoperative bacterial translocation, irritable bowel syndrome, and in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease. Nevertheless, one consistent feature has emerged over the past year: Not all probiotic bacteria have similar therapeutic effects. Future clinical trials will need to incorporate this fact into trial planning and design.SummaryThe use of probiotics and prebiotics as therapeutic agents for gastrointestinal disorders is rapidly moving into the “mainstream.” Mechanisms of action explain the therapeutic effects and randomized; controlled trials provide the necessary evidence for their incorporation into the therapeutic armamentarium.

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