Can probiotics help treat, or even cure a C. diff infection? Each year more than half a million people, many in hospitals, get the life-threatening bacterial "hospital sickness" known as Clostridium difficile (klos-TRID-e-um dif-uh-SEEL), often called C. difficile or C. diff.
C. diff, as its name implies, is a bacterium that has become resistant or immune to current antibiotics. A C. diff infection can cause severe diarrhea, nausea, dehydration and even death.
How do you treat a C. diff infection?
I was reminded of the perniciousness of this disease when a friend's elderly father recently got a C. difficile infection in the hospital which was considered a prime cause of his death. It made me think of the time my wife was in the hospital and was seemingly cured of her c. diff infection using simple over-the-counter probiotics.
If you are facing a C. diff infection, is there an alternative treatment?
Even though a C. diff infection is often cause by overuse of antibiotics, the standard treatment for C. diff is, ironically, more antibiotics. But we are learning that the body needs healthy bacteria to thrive.
The microbiome of our bodies is becoming better understood by science and there is new awareness that antibiotics, while working very well to kill certain harmful bacteria, also need to be replaced with probiotics, healthy gut bacteria to help maintain overall body health.
How C. diff is spread
Clostridium difficile is found in nearly all environments, but usually does not pose a health risk to most people. People who are immunity compromised are most at risk, such as people in a hospital or those who have taken antibiotics for a sustained period. The C. difficile bacterium is found throughout the world. It is passed from feces to hand to food when people who are infected don't wash their hands properly.
A new aggressive strain
The Mayo Clinic reports that an aggressive strain of C. diff that produces far more toxin, has recently emerged and although the disease is most commonly thought of in hospitals, people outside hospitals and those who have not taken antibiotics have reported the disease.
When simple OTC probiotics seemed to cure a C. diff infection
My first encounter with C. difficile was when my wife was in the hospital for complications arising from breast cancer. She was in the hospital for nearly a month when she got a bacterial infection. The doctors prescribed her powerful antibiotics which may have killed the initial infection, but which also lead to a C. diff infection.
The doctors then prescribed her more antibiotics, the standard treatment. But these were difficult for my wife to stomach. She was nauseous, her gut was in shreds and it seemed like folly to do the same thing and expect a different result.
CVS probiotics to the rescue?
I asked the doctors if probiotics might work. My thought was to "re-stock" her gut with healthy biomaterial to fight the bad bacteria. The doctor's demurred, they said it wasn't "tested" and basically dismissed the idea.
But what else could we do? The C. diff was getting worse. Staying the course was not an option anymore. I only knew a little bit about "probiotics." Basically that it's the same stuff in yogurt and that yogurt is good for you. So I went out and bought the most powerful antibiotics I could find at the time, CVS Maximum Strength Probiotic Capsules.
What did I know? It had a variety of strains of healthy bacteria including Lactobacillus Rhamnosus A191, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium Breve; Bifidobacterium Longum, and at 20 billion per capsule, it seemed like a lot. Meanwhile my wife had stopped taking the antibiotics altogether.
From there, we just kind of winged it. The label said take one capsule at mealtime, 3 a day for a healthy person, so for her we doubled it, tripled it.
Results of probiotics
Within 3 days, the c. diff had subsided and within a week it was gone. Lab tests confirmed it. My wife had many other complications from the cancer, but the C. diff was cured. I am sure the doctors thought it was the antibiotics.
Caveats here, get your caveats here
Can it really be that simple? Taking large quantities of over-the-counter probiotics to fight a resistant-strain antibiotic infection? At the least, it's worth investigating, especially since the standard treatment works so poorly.
I am not suggesting simple probiotics alone will always work, or that you cannot combine anti- and pro-biotic together in a treatment, or something else will work. But in this case, it did seem to affect the disease.
There is much research to be done. Many, many strains of probiotic bacteria at many strength levels. Does one combination work better than another? How many billions per dose?
Treating C. diff or other bacterial infections with probiotics is not scientifically proven. One seeming success is not conclusive.
The possibilities of probiotics
My purpose in writing this is to share my personal experience and to open the dialogue and the possibility that there may be another way to treat difficult bacterial diseases that is more aligned with our bodies microbiome and to see if using healthy bacteria can offer a defense against super-strains of bad bacteria where antibiotics have failed.
At least I can provide a floor and a starting point for further study and if you or your loved one is faced with C. diff in the hospital, here is a possible alternative treatment.