What are Probiotics, and do I need them?
May 12, 2005 7:44 AM   Subscribe

After hearing that the prescription that I've been using to treat my eczema has been linked to cancer, I have been looking into some body-friendly preventatives or treatments. I keep finding articles that suggest either probiotics or GLA (omega-6?). What are these, and has anyone used them?

I am not at all up on my suppliments. All I know is based on what I've googled, most of the sites I find are suppliment retailers... I'm looking for someone who may have more information, a better site to visit, or actual experience?
I have allergic eczema, triggered by a multitude of things (namely nickel sulfite). I've found information that suggests GLA can reduce the severity or prevent any flare ups, and probiotics are somehow involved in the production of GLA?
Also, I've heard that probiotics may help with lactose intolerance too? (Yup, I have skin allergies and lactose intolerance, pretty cool I know.) Something about the beneficial bacteria helping with digestion?
All of this is info I've been able to piece together from a variety of sites, I'm really not sure how valid any of it is. Also, is there any harm to taking a probiotic, and how does one take them? Any info or feedback would be greatly appreciated!
posted by sarahmelah to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry to answer a question with a question, but what prescription are you on currently? (as an eczema sufferer as well)
posted by jalexei at 7:46 AM on May 12, 2005

Response by poster: Sorry, thought that I'd included it. I've been using Protopic, but apparently the warning went out against Elidel as well. It's active ingredient/the culprit is tacrolimus I guess?
posted by sarahmelah at 8:12 AM on May 12, 2005

It would appear that GLA is generally seen as a pretty good alternative anti-eczema regime - it may at least minimize reliance on other medications.
The Protopic (Tacrolimus) website does include some references to carcinogenesis. I don't know what level of concern that information or any other information you have about possible side affects really means.
I guess you know all this - maybe this info. will let others have a bit more understanding.
The only things I'd venture to say are: increasing Gamma Linoleic Acid components in the diet sounds like a swell idea BUT the overall caveat would be of course that you ought to speak to your Doctor about changing either/both medication and diet. Have I provided some information and not advice? Good. I'm not realllllly sure what the word 'probiotic' means. "Life promoter"? Or at least what such a general term means when applied to diet - I didn't google because I just know it will return hawking sites for the mostpart. Perhaps look on 'lactose intolerance + probiotic' --- even then, I suspect a lot of less than trustworthy information. Speak to your Doctor about that too. *shrug* sorry
posted by peacay at 8:43 AM on May 12, 2005

Best answer: I can address a bit of that, but I'm having a bit of trouble putting your whole question together.

You probably already know what antibiotics are: things that kill things in your body, usually bacteria. "Anti-", against; "biotic", life.

Probiotics are the opposite: they promote the growth of organisms in your body. You might go "Why would I want to do that?", but we have symbiotic (helpful) relationships with all sorts of organisms that live within us. The most common probiotic is Acidophilus, which encourages the growth of normal bacterial flora in the intestine.

I raise an eyebrow at probiotics specifically for lactose intolerance. If you are clinically lactose-intolerant (and you've been diagnosed as such, eg. with a hydrogen breath test, and not just by experiencing symptoms when you consume lactose) then you're short on lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose in your gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics aren't going to teach your body to produce lactase again. That said, if you experience GI distress when you consume lactose but aren't lactose-intolerant then you might find benefits to encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria in your intestines -- or it might make no difference at all.

To continue that example, you can get Acidophilus supplements, but one common way to increase intake is to eat yogurt with live cultures.

(Still, if you experience gastric distress regularly, get checked out by a doctor, because there are a lot of diseases that can cause symptoms similar to the less-critical disorders that never move beyond discomfort and inconvenience. Many non-life-threatening GI disorders are diagnosed by excluding the life-threatening ones.)

I don't see the connection between probiotics and carcinogens at all.
posted by mendel at 10:12 AM on May 12, 2005

Response by poster: I suppose I should have mentioned this, but I no longer have access to a doctor (no insurance) otherwise I would certainly have started there. That's another reason that I'd be interested in any nonprescription alternatives, eventually the 'scrip I have will run out.

On preview, the link is between Protopic and carcinogens, not probiotics and carcinogens. The lactose intolerance is a second or side issue, my primary question has to do with probiotics or GLA and eczema.
posted by sarahmelah at 10:27 AM on May 12, 2005

Still not giving advice -- but that link to the Doctor's site above gives some pretty reasonable information. If it was me, I guess I'd note down the foodstuffs he has listed and maybe search a bit more on those if needed and start a GLA rich diet now. And if it was me I'd probably start scaling back the cream in a few weeks so that I had a smooth and slowish transition. But that's me. ymmv.
posted by peacay at 10:32 AM on May 12, 2005

Best answer: Ah, ok. One good starting place for figuring out stuff like this without a doctor is PubMed. Search there for "eczema probiotic" and you'll get 26 citations, most of which look useful. You typically have to hit up a medical library to get full articles for free, but the available abstracts are often sufficient for a starting point.

One specific thing to confirm is whether or not existing eczema will respond to probiotics in an adult; it looks like a lot of the research is on prevention in infants.
posted by mendel at 11:36 AM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

I sense you mean this link mendel
posted by peacay at 11:40 AM on May 12, 2005

Woops, so I do. Thanks!
posted by mendel at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2005

I had a co-worker who had good results with acupuncture. She said it cleared it right up and it never came back. You might look into that.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:43 AM on May 13, 2005

Best answer: We recently took our daughter to an eczema specialist at Johns Hopkins as we were concerned about the reports about Protopic/Elidil.

She told us not to worry. The reports came in part because the FDA is being altra sensitive after the Vioxx recall and the report concerned children under 2 (the testing didn't include that age group). Our doctor told us that unless one is bathing in Protopic that you shouldn't worry.

That being said, I am not a doctor and I would suggest you talk to a doctor about your concerns.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:40 AM on May 14, 2005

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