Probiotics may help alleviate the symptoms of lupus, according to new research, the latest in a growing collection of studies connecting the gut with the healthy functioning of the rest of the body.
A chronic autoimmune disease, lupus affects 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people around the world, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
“Flare ups” of the disease include inflammation and symptoms throughout the body, including the skin, joints, blood, kidneys, and heart. Anyone can get the lupus, though 90 percent of those who have it are women. There is no known cure.
The research, published in Applied and Environmental Biology, “provides evidence to suggest the use of probiotic Lactobacilli and retinoic acid as dietary supplements to relieve inflammatory flares in lupus patients,” according to the abstract.
Researchers at Virginia Tech investigated lupus and probiotics in mice. They found that mice with lupus had higher levels of Lachnospiraceae and lower levels of Lactobacillus (commonly found in yogurt cultures). They found this to be true only among female mice, which parallels the prevalence of the disease, which mostly appears in women. They monitored levels of the probiotics over time and experimented with how vitamin A and retinoic acid influenced the disease. Retinoic acid improved symptoms, and changed the population of gut bacteria in the mice.
The research suggests, but does not prove that altering the gut microbiota could mitigate lupus, according to a release about the study from the American Society for Microbiology. Nonetheless, the study’s principal investigator Xin Luo, of Virginia Tech, suggests that people with lupus should eat Lactobacillus-containing probiotics, such as live culture yogurts, to reduce lupus flares. More generally, "The use of probiotics, prebiotics, and antibiotics has the potential to alter microbiota dysbiosis, which in turn could improve lupus symptoms," said co-principal investigator Husen Zhang, in the release.