E. coli gets a bad reputation because certain strains, like O157:H7 can cause sever GI distress, or even death, when ingested in very tiny amounts (which also leads into a discussion on potency being strain-specific). However, other strains like Nissle 1917 have probiotic activity--meaning that they exert a health benefit when ingested in certain amounts.
In this new study, researchers found that Nissle 1917 was able to battle Salmonella, a common cause of foodborne illness. Previous research suggested that Salmonella typhimurium relies heavily on a high intake of iron to grow and replicate in the gut. Nissle 1917 is thought to need high amounts of iron as well, so the researchers tested whether Nissle 1917 would compete with Salmonella for limited iron resources, and reduce Salmonella infection rates (using a combination of in vitro growth analysis and animal data). They found that this strain of E. coli indeed reduced infection rates!
The findings may pave the way for probiotics to be used as a way to battle foodborne illnesses that affect millions of people annually. This also follows on the heels of other studies showing probiotics are able to reduce the risk of infection with Clostridium difficile, and specifically antibiotic-resistant C. difficile, a common infection picked-up in hospitals by immuno-compromised patients.
The take-home message, however, is that the single most critical factor in choosing a probiotic supplement is strain selection. This is exact why Health Canada requires all probiotic product to list strain (like Nissle 1917). Just listing the species (like E. coli) is meaningless--as you can see with E. coi, certain strains within the same species can have have completely different activity.
Further, human clinical research must show that a particular strain is actually a probiotic--it's not good enough to just list strain. Without human clinical research, how can we know what a particular bacterial strain does? Is it good, bad, or neutral?
So keep taking your probiotics for their numerous health benefits, but ensure the one you spend your money on is actually proven to exert health benefits. The most expensive product is the one that doesn't work, no matter how cheap it was.
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Source: Probiotic Bacteria Reduce Salmonella Typhimurium Intestinal Colonization by Competing for Iron
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