by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health
Life can be a waiting gameâan anxious and decidedly unfun gameâfor people whose family history puts them at high risk forÂ inflammatory bowel disease(IBD).
An umbrella term for a group of digestive disorders, IBD includes ulcerativeÂ colitis, which usually is confined to the colon and rectumâ¦andÂ Crohnâs disease, which can appear anywhere along the lining of the digestive tract.
Symptoms can be really terrible, including diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, bloody stools, malnutrition and more.
Do you know if IBD has affected anyone in your family?
You shouldâbecause you no longer have to just wait for it to hit you. Now, there is news about something you can do to lower your risk of getting itâ¦
FEEDING THE GOOD
The news comes from a study that examined the effects of something called aprebioticâbut before I tell you about the research, let me quickly remind you about the workings of the bacteria in your gut.
In your intestines are trillions of bacteria, with the specific types varying from person to person based on factors such as diet and environment. One theory about IBD suggests that it is caused by an overactive immune response to some âbadâ bacteria in the intestines.
The âgood versus bad bacteriaâ idea is nothing newâin fact, itâs one reason why you want that âlive, active culturesâ label on your yogurt. Those live, active cultures areprobiotics, beneficial bacteria that you can ingest directly. AÂ prebioticÂ is differentâit is food for bacteria, so you can use it to support certain types of beneficial bacteria that are already in your gut.
For this study, the researchers wanted to use a prebiotic supplement (basically a type of fiber) to feed and thus increase a specific population of beneficial bacteriaÂ beforeÂ IBD developed. The goal was to see whether the prebiotic might help prevent the development of the disease or make it less severe if it did develop.
Researchers performed the study on mice that did not have symptoms of the disease but were genetically predisposed to develop colitis after infection with âbadâ bacteria. One group of mice received a prebiotic supplement ofÂ galacto-oligosaccharidesÂ (GOS) daily for six weeksâ¦a second group did not get GOS. After the first two weeks, the researchers purposely infected all the mice with a pathogen to trigger the onset of colitis.
Results:Â Compared with mice that did not get GOS, those that were fed the prebiotic developed significantly less severe colitisâ¦and their lab tests showed much less inflammation andÂ dysplasiaÂ (abnormal tissue development) in their digestive tracts.
Researchers hypothesize that the prebiotic helps by increasing the number of protective bacteria in the gut, which in turn enhances immune function, reduces intestinal inflammation and/or reduces colonizing of harmful pathogens.
IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU?
I called lead researcher Jenifer Fenton, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University in East Lansing. She emphasized that because this study was conducted in mice, the resultsâthough encouragingâcannot be directly translated to people. So human studies definitely are needed.Â In the meantime, howeverâ¦
Patients who already have IBD should consult the physician treating their IBD before deciding whether to take GOS. âThe problem with having a chronic disease such as IBD for years is that it leads to a dramatic change in the intestinal tissue. A supplement could theoretically make it worse,â she explained. Whatâs more, because GOS is a type of fiber, it may not be well-tolerated by IBD patients, who often cannot eat a high-fiber diet.
So whoÂ isÂ most likely to benefit from GOS? People with a family history of IBD (meaning that their parent, sibling or child has or had the disease)â¦and perhaps those who are at risk for exposure to pathogenic gut bacteria (for instance, because they are traveling to a new country).
To determine whether GOS is appropriate for you, consult a doctor with expertise in nutrition. You may be given a test called a comprehensive digestive stool analysis. As for dosage, follow your doctorâs guidelines. (By way of comparison, Dr. Fenton mentioned one human study published inÂ American Journal of Clinical NutritionÂ in which participants took daily doses of up to five grams of GOS.) GOS generally is safe, though it may cause an increase in flatulence and/or mild gastrointestinal discomfort, particularly in people who are not accustomed to consuming much fiber.
You may face a challenge in getting hold of GOS because the supplement isnât easy to find in the US. One available option is ProBiota Immune from Seeking Health (available atÂ http://amzn.to/ZV37fx). On the label, the suggested serving size is about one to two teaspoons per day. Several GOS-containing products also are available from Europe, such as Bimuno IBAID (www.Bimuno.com/buy-now).
Source:Â Jenifer Fenton, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, department of food science and human nutrition, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing. Her study was published inÂ The Journal of Nutrition.