In the strange-but-true category, a recent study shows transferring fecal matter from one person to another works better than current medical therapies to eradicate bacteria from the serious bowel infection Clostridium dificile colitis.
The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported that Dutch researchers performed a randomized trial, in which 13 out of 16 patients with C. dificile colitis infection of the colon improved after the fecal transplant. That was compared with less than one-third of patients who improved with conventional antibiotic treatment.
While this may seem to be an icky and isolated medical factoid, it illustrates that the specific bacteria humans normally carry in our bodies are helpful in creating and maintaining health.
The fecal transplant in the study worked because the specific bacteria in the healthy gut introduced a large volume of "good" bacteria into the infected gut, helping to fight off and crowd out the "bad" bacterial infection.
Probiotics are the "good" bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the gut. The normal human digestive tract carries an estimated 100 trillion micro-organisms from more than 500 species of bacteria.
By our toddler years, microbial populations have generally stabilized and remain stable throughout adulthood. Changes in individuals' probiotic makeup can occur with changes in diet, environment and host genetics, and a shift in the makeup can lead to a pre- disposition to certain bowel conditions.
Probiotics have been shown helpful in maintaining health by restoring normal flora and supporting immune system function, especially when a person is taking antibiotics, which can wipe out intestinal bacteria indiscriminately, including the "good" bacteria.
Probiotics have also been shown in some studies to be an effective treatment for diarrhea, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal yeast infections, oral thrush, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.
The good news is that we don't all have to stand in line for our fecal transplant to have a healthy gut bacteria blend. Probiotics are available in foods and dietary supplements. Some of these options include probiotic yogurts from cow's milk, goat's milk, sheep's milk and soy, which normally contain lactobacillus.
Kefir contains several major strains of "good" bacteria, such as lactobacillus caucasus, leuconostoc, acetobacter species, and streptococcus species, and some beneficial yeasts that aren't usually found in yogurt.
Another source is probiotic cheese: yogurt- and kefir-cultured cheeses, which can contain the bacteria lactobacillus acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. casei, Streptococcus thermophilus and bifidobacterium lactis.
And probiotic kombucha, which is a fermented tea drink in which tea, water and sugar are combined together and heated, with starter cultures added to create the end product, exactly as is done with yogurt or kefir.
Probiotic nutraceuticals and supplements in pill and liquid form also can aid in this area, though we recommend a natural approach to probiotic supplementation, getting a variety of probiotics with diverse natural food products, and supplementing as needed, especially after taking a round of antibiotics that can skew your natural probiotic balance.