Can Probiotics Treat Crohn’s Disease?

Healthnotes Newswire (September 27, 2007)—For people suffering from Crohn’s disease—a type of inflammatory bowel disease—a combination of pre- and probiotics may help ease symptoms.

Though any part of the digestive tract may be involved, Crohn’s most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine, often interfering with nutrient absorption. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools, weight loss, and fever are possible symptoms.

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is yet to be discovered; however, much evidence points to an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut. Inflammation can occur when certain bacteria are attacked by the immune system. An overgrowth of these bacteria coupled with insufficient amounts of beneficial bacteria might set up the cycle of chronic inflammation that characterizes Crohn’s disease. Antibiotics can help rid the body of these bacterial offenders, but their repeated or prolonged use can lead to other problems.

Another way to alter the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract is by taking probiotics—also known as beneficial bacteria. The actions of probiotics may be further enhanced by taking prebiotics—substances that help probiotics to flourish in the intestine—such as psyllium fiber, inulin, and fructooligosaccharides.

Several studies have looked at the effect of probiotics on Crohn’s disease, with mixed results, and none have looked for possible prebiotic benefits.

In the new study, which was published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, ten people with Crohn’s disease took a prebiotic supplement containing 3.3 grams of psyllium dissolved in water three times per day and a probiotic supplement containing a total of 75 million colony-forming units of Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium longum. The people continued to take their regular Crohn’s medications during the trial, which lasted an average of 13 months.

Four people chose not to take the prebiotic supplement, complaining of abdominal bloating. Of the remaining six people taking both supplements, four of them had a complete remission of their disease. “We found that Crohn’s disease patients with frequent diarrhea benefited most from a combined probiotic and prebiotic therapy,” the authors said. They concluded, “Synbiotic therapy [pre- and probiotics taken together] can safely reduce Crohn’s disease activity and can achieve its remission, especially for Crohn’s patients with frequent diarrhea.”

While larger, controlled studies are needed to confirm these results, for now, taking a combination of pre- and probiotics seems to be a safe option that might bring relief to many people with Crohn’s disease.

(J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2007;22:1199–204)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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