I like being a doctor, I really do. I love my profession and am proud of my colleagues’ sincere dedication to helping the suffering but then again we can be really, really stupid….

Every one knows that probiotics are good for us. Humans have eaten fermented foods for health and taste as long as we have been humans. Probiotics are even more important in today’s over medicated world, so it is nice to see studies like this one.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a disease every bit as scary as it’s name. Affecting mostly very small premature babies, it destroys the blood supply to segments of their intestines and kills roughly 25% of the children who get NEC. We do not really know what causes it but it seems like bacteria in the babies digestive tracts are part of the problem.

The latest word on this horrible illness is not a new study. It is an analysis of the clinical research that has already been done on treating NEC with probiotics. Combining the results from 11 studies involving over 2,000 patients, investigators determined that using probiotics reduced the likelihood of developing NEC by roughly 65% and the death rate by 57%. Wow!

Now comes the stupid part.

A sizable percentage of my colleagues believe that we should not routinely give probiotics to premature infants to prevent NEC. Why? They feel that we don’t know the best probiotic to use, how much to use, whether it should be given to nursing or formula-fed babies…. By the way, there was no evidence that taking probiotic bacteria led to any other infections or problems.

So, no downside, reduced risk of disease by 65% and death by 57% but we should wait until we know more? I seem to be missing something here.


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Michael Carlston, MD is an internationally recognized authority in the integration of conventional and complementary medicine in clinical practice, as well as medical education, research and organizational consulting. Practicing in Santa Rosa, California, Dr. Carlston was voted “Best General Physician In Sonoma County, California” by readers of the Sonoma County Independent newspaper and also named one of the outstanding physicians in the Bay Area by San Francisco Focus Magazine. With 30+ years in private practice, his expertise is in nutrition, homeopathy and sports medicine.

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