Friday, 2 December 2011

Probiotics, probiotics, probiotics

Do you ever have one of those days where a certain word seems to keep cropping up again and again no matter where you turn? Well, today is one of those days for me, and today's word is probiotics. Like a good dose of influenza (if there is such a thing as a good dose), I just can't seem to shake that word today.

So here are the papers with that word:

Delzenne and colleagues* (open-access) report on an interesting relationship between gut bacteria and obesity with a specific focus on studies looking to 'alter' the gut microbiota via pre- and probiotics and the various reported outcomes based on anthropometric and biochemical parameters linked to obesity. I talked about something similar a few months back on a sister blog.

Min Tan and colleagues** (open-access) report on the quite positive effects to patients recovering from traumatic brain injury in intensive care following administration of probiotics. Based on a relatively small patient group, patients (n=52) were randomised into either a nutrition + probiotics group or a nutrition alone group. Feeds were administered via a nasogastric tube initially which then progressed to the 'by mouth' route when patients were well enough. Various serum cytokines and related immune markers were analysed over the course of the study which lasted for 21 days.

Unfortunately some of the patients did not make it following their group allocation as sadly might be expected following a serious brain trauma. Other patients developed complications following their accident which did not seem to differ in quantity statistically between the groups aside from the number of pathogens potentially related to infections: fewer pathogens in the probiotic group. The probiotic group (the probiotic including Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus) did however show an altered immune profile to the control group in terms of indications of the Th1-Th2 slant to the immune system. Although perhaps a little simplistic, Th1 represents the fighting infection side of the immune system and Th2 is the production of antibodies side of things. The probiotic group showed an immune profile more representative of the Th1 response, speculated to be important for their speedier recovery and their less frequent use of antibiotics.

Although the results were not totally astounding in this study, there is an important clinical lesson from this trial in that patients spent statistically less time in intensive care and relied on fewer antibiotics during their recovery as a result of probiotic administration. For patients and physicians alike, this has got to be a good thing.

Finally, ScienceDaily carries an interesting statement from the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) regarding probiotics and the potential anti-inflammatory properties of certain types of probiotic. I like to sound of the collected press conference for the studies listed in this release: "Good, bad and ugly bugs: Mother Nature as a treatment for better health in the GI tract". As per the release there are a few headlines including:

  • A meta-analysis of studies looking at the use of probiotics used to reduce cases of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (diarrhea) concluded that yep, probiotics, and particularly that most lovable to yeasts Saccharomyces boulardii, do a pretty good job at curbing your risk of this quite unpleasant condition.
  • The use of Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 for those suffering from recurrent abdominal bloating and discomfort did not fare too well in a new randomised-controlled trial. B.infantis 35624 had previously shown some interesting positive results for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Having said that, it was not all bad news for B.infantis 35624 as per another trial which suggested that the probiotic might have some pretty good anti-inflammatory properties when it comes to those dastardly pro-inflammatory cytokines. Indeed that most common of inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein seemed also to be reduced in cases of psoriasis, ulcerative colitis and even in chronic fatigue patients following probiotic administration.

What then can we assume from these collected studies. Well, at least in the short-term under various controlled conditions, probiotics, various probiotics, might just be able to influence our health and ill-health particularly in certain conditions/states. As per my previous post, our collected gut bacteria is a complicated organism which talks to our immune system in ways we are only starting to understand. Like every married couple, sometime the talk is positive and healthy; other times the talk is slightly less healthy... (not in front of the kids!).

Whether in the longer-term, supplementing with probiotics offers any added benefit, I don't know. Speculation (and it is only that) would perhaps suggest that the way probiotics are delivered (those all important enteric coatings), how our immune system recognise bacteria as 'self' or 'not-self' and good old homeostasis (the body's drive to keep harmony) are all factors potentially affecting the ability to make a more permanent shift in our not-so-good bacterial species to those preferred choices. Indeed this last point on what is good and bad gut bacteria perhaps needs a little more research in terms of the effects of individual species, etc on health and wellbeing.

* Delzeene NM. et al. Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics. Nature Revs. November 2011.

** Min Tan. et al. Effects of probiotics on serum levels of Th1/Th2-cytokine and clinical outcomes in severe traumatic brain-injured patients: a prospective randomized pilot study. Critical Care. December 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting article.

    Would you expect TH1:TH2 levels to go up or down when taking probiotics?