Cancer treatments including radiation and chemical often lead to diarrhea, a contributor to the debilitating side effects. Because probiotics are well-known to intervene and often alleviate diarrhea, clinicians ask whether probiotic supplements should be advised.
There is a glitch. Immunity in cancer patients is fragile. So will adding a live organism to the mix be seen as friend or foe by the battered immune system? Recently, researchers in the UK assessed the data for such adverse effects as infection.
They looked at randomized, controlled trials. Eleven studies with 1557 participants were included.
The results showed that probiotics may
- Reduce severity of diarrhea in cancer patients
- Reduce frequency of diarrhea in cancer patients
When looking at safety, 17 studies with 1530 patients were analyzed:
Five showed evidence of “probiotic-related bacteraemia/fungaemia/positive blood cultures” wrote the authors in Annal of Oncology in October 2014.
In other words, sepsis.
Here is a quick review of sepsis which ranges from mild to deadly. It is condensed from the Mayo Clinic online, an excellent health information website.
- Mild sepsis can include high or low body temperature along with high heart rate and respiratory rate along with infection. It is most treatable at this stage.
- Severe sepsis means signs of organ failure such as reduced urine production, breathing difficulty, drop in platelet count or abdominal pain.
- If blood pressure drops uncontrollably, septic shock is present.
It may be that probiotics may be most helpful as prevention mechanisms rather than jumping in to fight the fire. There is evidence in infants that probiotics may reduce invasive fungal sepsis in preterm low birth weight infants.
Though rare, the dangers must be considered when treating with probiotics. Ironically, when a gut is most in need of healthy colonies, it may also be the time when any introduction of new bacteria can turn on its host.