A dose of "good" bacteria may help fight the bad bacteria and relieve a painful digestive disorder.

A new study shows that a mixture of eight bacteria reversed or eased the symptoms of ulcerative colitis in most people treated with the probiotic preparation. Probiotics are made from living bacteria that are thought to affect the balance of other living organisms and bacteria in the gut and improve the health of the intestine.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disorder that affects the large intestine and results in severe stomach pain, bloody diarrhea, fever, and fatigue.

Researchers say an unhealthy ratio of "bad" bacteria to "good" bacteria is thought to trigger inflammatory bowel diseases. Probiotics may treat these conditions by remedying this bacterial imbalance.

Read WebMD's "Learn More About Ulcerative Colitis"

Probiotics: New Ulcerative Colitis Treatment?

In the study, researchers evaluated the effects of six weeks of treatment with probiotics in 32 people with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis. The probiotics were taken daily by mouth.

The results appear in the July issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Patients who continued to have symptoms despite treatments were included. Patients remained on their other ulcerative colitis treatments.

Researchers found 53 percent of those treated with probiotics experienced a remission of their disease. Twenty-four percent had a significant decrease in their symptoms without any significant side effects.

No response was seen in 9 percent of the probiotic patients, and another 9 percent worsened.

The probiotic mixture used in the study, VSL #3, contained eight types of bacteria, including species of lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and streptococcus. These "good" bacteria are said to fight "bad" bacteria and reduce inflammation.

Read WebMD's "Supplement May Ease Ulcerative Colitis"

Side Effects

Increased bloating that was attributed to VSL #3 was seen in 29 percent of patients. Bloating was not severe enough to require stopping the treatment.

Researchers say the results of this study suggest that probiotics may provide an alternative treatment for people with ulcerative colitis who don't respond to conventional treatments.

A clinical trial comparing the effects of probiotics to a placebo is under way to confirm the effects found in this study.

Read WebMD's "Celebrex May Be Safe for Ulcerative Colitis"

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Bililoni, R. American Journal of Gastroenterology, July 2005; vol 100: pp 1539- 1546. News release, University of Alberta.