Probiotic strain shows promise for treating IBD

Probiotic strain shows promise for treating IBD


Written by James Kingsland on May 4, 2021 — Fact checked by Zia Sherrell, MPH
Share on PinterestCould probiotics help treat irritable bowel disease? Andrew Brookes/Getty Images

  • A “leaky” gut wall can cause inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel disease.
  • In a study involving human cell cultures and mice, scientists found that a particular strain of the bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilus may restore the integrity of the gut wall and reduce inflammation.
  • The researchers speculate that probiotics containing this strain of L. acidophilus could help treat inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions that involve gut inflammation.

In inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), inflammation of the digestive tract can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss, among other symptoms.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main types of IBD.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 3 million adults in the United States have IBD.

One of the characteristics of the disease is increased permeability of the walls of the intestine — sometimes known as a leaky gut — which can provoke inflammation of the gut lining.

Protein complexes called “tight junctions” (TJs) act similarly to rivets to bind together adjacent cells in the gut’s lining to prevent microorganisms and other contents from seeping out.

The intestine’s TJ barrier is defective in IBD and other inflammatory conditions of the gut, including celiac disease and necrotizing enterocolitis.

Friendly bacteria

Currently, there are no effective treatments to “tighten” the TJ barrier and reduce the permeability of the gut.

However, several studies have found that “friendly” bacteria in the gut help strengthen the intestinal barrier.

Scientists know that people with IBD have an imbalance in their gut bacteria, with reduced overall diversity of species and larger numbers of bacteria that provoke inflammation.

Researchers have tried to identify particular species of probiotic bacteria that enhance the TJ barrier and that could make effective treatments for IBD, but with inconclusive results.

However, in a new study, scientists have discovered a strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus that strengthens the TJ barrier in human cell cultures.

The strain, known as LA1, also reduced colitis, or inflammation of the inner lining of the colon, in a mouse model of IBD.

“Our data indicate that LA1 is able to prevent colonic inflammation formation and promote colitis healing,” says lead investigator Dr. Thomas Ma, Ph.D., of Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey Medical Center, in Hershey.

He says the findings suggest that the strain could have applications in a wide range of disorders involving chronic inflammation associated with a leaky gut, in addition to IBD.

These conditions include celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten in food, and necrotizing enterocolitis, where bacteria invade the intestine wall of premature infants.

The results of the study appear in The American Journal of Pathology.

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