Probiotics may be the key to managing a notoriously difficult brain condition. A new study announced this month at the International Liver Congress in Amsterdam suggests that probiotics could emerge as a treatment plan for hepatic encephalopathy (HE).
Hepatic encephalopathy, or HE, is a spectrum of neuropsychiatric abnormalities including altered personality, confusion, altered level of conscious, and coma that occurs when the liver is no longer able to remove toxins from the blood. The condition can cause brain damage and lead to death. It's one of the major complications of cirrhosis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Dehydration, kidney problems, a diet too high in protein and a number of other factors can also cause the hepatic encephalopathy. It can also occur suddenly in people who have never had liver problems, but most often occurs among people with chronic issues with that organ.
Researchers analyzed the power of probiotics to prevent the development of HE in 160 cirrhotic patients over approximately nine months. They found significant improvements in reducing patients' arterial ammonia levels after just three months of treatment, according to the release. Ammonia, produced by gut bacteria, is believed to be one of the main instigators of brain dysfunction in HE. Probiotics work by enriching the gut flora with a non-urease producing microorganisms, which decrease ammonia production.
Twice as many patients taking a placebo developed overt HE compared to patients taking probiotics. "Hepatic encephalopathy is an insidious disease that's caused by an accumulation of toxins in the blood that are normally removed by the liver,” said Mauro Bernardi, Treasurer of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, in the release. “Treatment normally involves the use of antibiotics or laxatives to suppress the production of toxic substances in the intestine but there is still a great deal of room for improvement so it will be exciting to see the results of further studies to determine if clinicians have a new form of treatment on the cards."