'Good bacteria' tested on bowel disorders such as Crohn's

Researchers in Alberta are testing whether a type of bacteria has the potential to treat Crohn's disease and other serious bowel disorders.

Researchers in Alberta are testingwhether a type of bacteria has the potential to treat Crohn's disease and other serious bowel disorders.

We usually think of germs as bad for us, but the majority living in our bodies are helpful. The emerging field of probiotics looks at how to take the good bacteria in the right amount to fight disease.

In certain diseases, levels of good bacteria living in the digestive system fall. Probiotics or concentrated good bacteria are given to raise levels back tonormal.

Dr. Richard Fedorak, director of gastroenterology at the University of Alberta Hospital, is involved in clinical trials using probiotics to treat ailments like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.

"What's different about what we're doing now is we're concentrating those probiotics into high concentrations and giving them to people as medicine," said Fedorak.

To work, products should contain between one million and one billion live bacteria, scientists say.

Fedorak is testing VSL 3, a combination of eight types of good bacteria. In a small study published last year, three-quarters of people with ulcerative colitis showed some benefit, with more than half going into remission.

Crohn's disease causes inflammation, ulcers and blockages in the intestinal system. For 10 years, the disease kept Karen Gall of Edmonton from eating anything healthy.

Gall was part of a trial testing the probiotics in combination with surgery. She considers the results amazing.

"I can eat a normal meal," Gall said. "I don't have to cook one meal for my family and then wonder what I am going to eat? I can go to a restaurant and find something to eat in most restaurants."

Probiotics are also being tested for other conditions, including asthma and diabetes.

But the probiotics can cost several hundred dollars a month. Since they are living organisms and not drugs, drug plans don't cover the costs.