Probiotics Reduce Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Adults with ulcerative colitis (UC) may have fewer flare-ups of their symptoms by consuming a fermented milk product containing beneficial bacteria, according to a study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition (2002;22:56–63). This safe, cost-effective treatment may significantly help improve the quality of life of those suffering from this often devastating disease.
UC is a disease of the intestines in which the lining becomes severely inflamed, leading to erosion of the protective barrier and eventually ulceration. Symptoms include frequent and urgent loose stools, abdominal cramping and pain, blood and mucus in the stool, and fever. Many people with UC become malnourished due to poor absorption of nutrients across the intestinal membranes, which leads to anemia, fatigue, weight loss, and diminished appetite. Avoiding raw fruits and vegetables and allergenic foods may result in symptomatic improvement in some individuals with UC. Other treatments include oral loperamide (Imodium®) to stop diarrhea or oral mesalamine (Asacol®), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine®), or prednisolone to reduce inflammation. However, many of the oral medications to treat UC cause serious adverse side effects and may not be tolerated by some individuals. Enemas containing corticosteroids or butyrate may also be beneficial.
In the new study, 21 adults between the ages of 39 and 60 with UC were randomly divided into two groups. The first group received one bottle per day of a fermented milk supplement (containing at least 10 billion organisms per bottle of Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus acidophilus) in addition to their prescription medications, while the second group only took their prescribed medications. Participants were questioned every month for one year about whether their symptoms had improved or worsened from the previous month. Colonoscopies (looking at the colon through a special scope) and examinations of intestinal flora were performed prior to the study, at the beginning of the study, and again at the end.
Exacerbation of symptoms was seen in 27% of the group taking the fermented milk product, compared with 90% of those who only took the prescription medications. No difference was observed in the amount of prescription medications taken between the two groups. While no B. breve and B. bifidum were observed in initial stool analysis of the treatment group, the organisms appeared in the stool following supplementation with the fermented milk product, demonstrating normalization of these beneficial intestinal microbes.
Studies have shown that Bifidiobacteria species exist in fewer numbers in people with UC than in healthy individuals and that a reduction in the number of these organisms may play a role in the exacerbation of symptoms. Other studies suggest that people with UC have elevated amounts of another bacterium in the stool called Bacteroides vulgatus, which may reflect an imbalance of normal intestinal flora. In the current study, the number of Bacteroides organisms was significantly reduced following treatment with the fermented milk product. Although it is not clear how the beneficial bacteria improve the outcome of UC, normalizing the intestinal microflora may be an essential part of the long-term management of this disease.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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