Hope for Colitis: Researchers say probiotics may dramatically reduce symptoms

A type of ‘friendly bacteria’ may be a key treatment to manage of one of the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease – ulcerative colitis. Results from a four-week patient trial led by Professor George Macfarlane showed that many of the patients’ symptoms were dramatically reduced to near normal levels. Ulcerative colitis is an acute and chronic disease that causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the large bowel. Patients commonly experience abdominal pain and diarrhea, but fatigue, weight loss, rectal bleeding, loss of appetite and loss of body fluids and nutrients can affect some patients.

After studying the bowel wall of colitis patients and healthy volunteers, the team made an important discovery. The levels of a specific type of friendly bacteria were 30 times less in colitis patients than in healthy people. As well as stimulating the immune system and offering anti-cancer properties, many of these organisms have anti-inflammatory effects. After noting that the particular types of these bacteria were also different in colitis patients, the researchers set about developing substitute organisms that could help colitis patients.

As a result, the researchers developed a probiotic, which was given to the colitis patients as a substitute for the anti-inflammatory effects that the naturally occurring ‘friendly bacteria’ offer to healthy people. The trial results were dramatic, showing a highly significant effect on inflammatory molecules in the bowel wall, largely reducing the pain and discomfort. Molecular and clinical tests showed that many symptoms associated with colitis were reduced to near normal levels, and unlike many other treatments, there are no side effects.

University of Dundee, Aug 17, 2004