Thursday, June 4, 2009


In an earlier Blog the ability of friendly bacteria to outnumber pathogenic ones in the GI tract was highlighted with reference to Cl.difficile eruptions amongst people using heavy antibiotic regimes for fighting different diseases. Probiotic and prebiotic foods, many in number, achieve the purpose of maintaining GI tract health under optimal conditions, staving off a host of intestinal afflictions. By far the richest source of probiotics are dairy products containing lactic acid bacteria (LAB) with varied beneficial actions on human body. While lactic fermented foods like yogurt are available in stabilized formats with relatively long shelf life, advances made by food technologists in developing freeze drying technology have made it possible to culture, harvest and dry the microbiological cells without affecting their ability to multiply under favorable conditions. Freeze drying, also known as Lyophilization was developed for preserving biological activity of live creatures like microorganisms and enzymes and temperature sensitive chemicals for long periods of time. Unlike the freezing technology which needs sub-zero conditions to preserve the frozen products, freeze dried materials can be stored under ambient conditions with minimum loss of activity. If pharma industry is able to deliver millions of live cells through capsules for easy delivery it is due to the marvels of freeze drying technology.

Millions of people in the world suffer intestinal damage like ulcers due to many reasons and this can lead to pain and loss of blood leading to anemic condition. Helicobacter pylori is a host organism found in the stomach linings of many people and they are usually harmless till there are occasional eruptions causing stomach ulcers. More than 50% of human population have this microorganism in their stomach but only a few show signs of ulcers. Similarly widespread consumption of high doses of Aspirin as a routine measure to preempt clot formation in arteries for people above 45 years and over consumption of non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications can cause stomach ulcers. Acid suppressants and antacid preparations are routinely being used to give relief to the ulcer symptoms while antibiotics are recommended under acute eruptions of H.pylori in the stomach. But overwhelming the H .pylori population with lactic acid bacteria contained in yogurts is another strategy that may work in many affected patients.

Looking at the mechanism by which H.pylori infects the stomach, it was discovered that the microbe uses an enzyme called urease to attach itself to the stomach wall and causes havoc to the infected person. H.pylori contains urease enzyme in high concentrations which produces ammonia to neutralize the acidic environment so that the microbe can grow unhindered. As the stomach acid is neutralized, more and more acid is produced by the body creating ideal conditions for developing ulcers. Peptic ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers are manifested as sores or holes in the linings of the stomach, causing pain and bleeding in many cases. Japanese food scientists recently explored the possibility of using an urease antibody through the oral route to disable these microbes from getting established in the stomach and found it was feasible. As yogurt has some favorable effect in counteracting the severity of stomach infections, urease antibody was formulated into yogurt preparations as a possible easy way of controlling stomach ulcers. Urease antibody can be produced by injecting urease enzyme into chickens and extracting the antibody from their eggs for use in formulated yogurt preparations. In presence of these antibodies, urease activity of H.pylori is disabled making it difficult for them to grow and cause ulcer. The antibody protein does not seem to have any side effect and is eventually digested in the stomach routinely.

Though such yogurt preparations are on the market shelves in some countries, they are yet to be established internationally. While H.pylori infection is more commonly encountered in western population, it is not a major cause of concern in India yet probably due to the food habits cultivated over centuries and the prominent place enjoyed by curd or butter milk in the diet of the population. Urease antibody route to fight peptic ulcers, however, is limited to those caused by only H.pylori and other types of gastric ulcers are not preempted by this . Using food as a medium to tackle some of the illnesses, as brought out by the example of modified yogurt, is a practical approach that needs to be fully exploited to lessen our dependence on synthetic medicines.


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