New research suggests natural antibiotics may help reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria deaths, and that using the drugs may be safer than not.
Researchers found that the combination of antibiotics with a probiotic made the deaths of nearly 10 percent less likely to be attributed to the bacteria, which are resistant to most antibiotics.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by University of Pennsylvania medical school professor Dr. Steven T. Lichtman.
Lichtman said the findings have been important in a time when antibiotic use is soaring and the world faces a rising number of drug-resistant infections.
“I’m not saying we can stop there, but we need to be very careful, because there are very real risks to the use of these antibiotics, and there are real consequences,” Lichtmans said.
“The real danger is that we could be increasing the numbers of people dying from this, as well.”
In the study, researchers took a group of people who had a recent diagnosis of bacterial pneumonia and treated them with antibiotics and probiotics for two weeks.
They then looked at the patients’ health, and they found that when the antibiotics were given over time, the bacteria in their lungs shrank.
“This is very encouraging, and it’s important to show that it’s possible to decrease the severity of pneumonia, if we use natural antibiotics,” said Dr. Thomas P. Zollikofer, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center who was not involved in the research.
“The real benefit here is the way that the probiotics can help in the prevention of infections that are associated with antibiotic resistance, and so the longer they’re used, the less likely they are to become resistant,” he said.
“There’s also a benefit in that you have a much higher proportion of people with antibiotic-resistance and that may mean that if you treat them with probiotics and antibiotics, they’re less likely at the end of the course to become antibiotic- resistant.”
Lichtmans says it is important to use probiotics in combination with antibiotics, but he warns that they should not be used together.
“It’s important that we don’t do that,” he told ABC News.
“If you use them in combination, you’re putting antibiotics in the wrong place, and the result is the death of the patient.”
Zollikafer says the study provides more evidence for the benefits of probiotics than for the risks.
“We know that people who have a probiotics-specific immune response are less likely than people who don’t have that response to get a disease like this,” he added.
“And we know that there is some evidence that probiotics may be protective against antibiotic-associated pneumonia.”
Dr. William R. Coughlan, a professor of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said the study is not an endorsement of probiotic therapy, but it is encouraging.
“They found that combining probiotics with antibiotics for two days in combination was very beneficial in the reduction of antibiotic-induced pneumonia in these patients,” he explained.
Coughlan also cautioned that more research is needed to determine if the combination treatment is more effective than the use only of antibiotics alone.
“For sure, this study is the first to show the benefits, but there is no definitive evidence that this is a better approach to treatment of this disease than the combination treatments,” he noted.