We are already starting to appreciate just how (a) complex and (b) important our gut microbiota are to health and wellbeing outside of the more traditional duties of food digestion and making the odd nutrient or two. Those trillions of beasties which call us home seem to be cropping up everywhere these days in research terms, based on investigations as diverse as obesity (see here) and autoimmunity (see here) even to the point of speculation about involvement in psychological development (see here) (mice, not humans, mice... so far). That and the fact that stability seems to be a good word to describe their bacterial lives* (assuming that you don't swallow a grenade).
That being said, the involvement of gut bacteria whether alone or as part of the triad of gut involvement - gut bacteria, gut permeability and mucosal / systemtic immunity** - in relation to gastrointestinal (GI) illness and/or dysfunction should not get too lost in the dialogue. Indeed, how modification of gut bacteria, whether through diet, medicine or other means (yes, yuck factor 10) remains a real point of interest when it comes to GI conditions.
With that in mind I turn today to the paper by Yoon and colleagues*** who following quite a rigourous trial (double-blind, placebo-controlled) suggested that a mix of probiotics given over 4 weeks might be able to do some positive things to the symptoms of formally diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The "multi-species" mix included various species and strains: Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Streptococcus thermophilus. The authors reported that more of those in receipt of the probiotic mix reported greater relief from their IBS symptoms over and above placebo, and when looking at fecal microflora, there were accompanying changes too as a result of the mix. Interestingly even in the placebo group there were some bacterial changes to be had (mind over matter?).
I know that the Yoon paper is not necessarily new news when it comes to probiotics and IBS (see here) but what this paper does add is its suggestion that rather than thinking too narrow about specific bacteria and species affecting specific conditions, we should perhaps be taking a more broad perspective and realising that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to the intricate connections between our various passengers residing in the gut.
* Faith JJ. et al. The long-term stability of the human gut microbiota. Science. 2013 Jul 5;341(6141):1237439. doi: 10.1126/science.1237439.
** Groeger D. et al. Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 modulates host inflammatory processes beyond the gut. Gut Microbes. 2013 Jun 21;4(4).
*** Yoon JS. et al. Effect of multi-species probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Jul 5. doi: 10.1111/jgh.12322.