In some ways, this section overlaps with some of the other topics because many diseases are described as autoimmune. Nevertheless, probiotics interact with the immune system in ways that help identify rouge cells more accurately. They do this by stimulating the immune factors appropriate to a particular type of problem. They also help to eliminate the possibility that these cells come under attack in the first place.

Researchers from China’s Westchina Hospital and Sichuan University (Bai et al. 2006) took colonic biopsies from active ulcerative colitis patients. They were co-cultured for 24 hours with Bifidobacterium longum. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and interleukin (IL)-8 were lower than colitis patient samples cultured without B. longum. The number of lamina propria mononuclear cells (LPMC) with nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappaB) P65 positive among co-cultured tissues was also significantly less in the B. longum group. The researchers concluded that, “probiotics could inhibit NF-kappaB activation in LPMC and down-regulate inflammatory cytokine secretion from inflamed tissues of active ulcerative colitis.”

Medical researchers at the Università dell’Aquila in Italy (De Simone et al. 1992) gave Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus or placebo to 25 elderly persons for 28 days. After treatment, inflammatory factors among the subjects showed a significant reduction in colonic inflammation, without any altering of T-cells, B-cells and leu7 cells within the digestive system. B-cell activity within the intestinal peripheral bloodstream increased in the probiotic group. The researchers concluded that, “the overall results suggest that the regular administration of B. bifidum and L. acidophilus leads to a modulation of the immunological and inflammatory response in elderly subjects.”

Healthy elderly volunteers were given either lactitol with a placebo or lactitol (a milk sugar-alcohol) plus Lactobacillus acidophilus. The group given the probiotics showed a modification of inflammatory markers (prostaglandin-1 and IgA); and produced levels of Bifidobacterium in the stool typical for younger persons with stronger immune systems (Ouwehand et al. 2009).

Scientists from the University of Helsinki (Kekkonen et al. 2008) measured lipids and inflammation markers before and after three weeks of treatment of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG on 26 healthy adults. After three weeks, the probiotic decreased levels of inflammatory fatty acids lysophosphatidylcholines, sphingomyelins, and several glycerophosphatidylcholines. Meanwhile pro-inflammatory triglycerides decreased, and inflammatory markers TNF-alpha and CRP also decreased after the probiotic treatment.

Japanese scientists (Matsumoto and Benno 2006) found that acute inflammation was inhibited by the consumption of Bifidobacterium lactis LKM512 yogurt. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha production was modulated, and inflammatory cytokines produced by macrophages were modulated—consistent with a reduction of inflammation.

Researchers from Japan’s Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine (Shimizu et al. 2009) studied 58 patients with severe systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels greater than 10 mg/dl. The patients received a placebo or a combination of Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus casei, and GOS (prebiotic). Instances of enteritis, pneumonia, and bacteremia were significantly lower among the probiotic group compared to the placebo group. The probiotics significantly reduced complications in the SIRS patients.

University of Helsinki scientists (Kekkonen et al. 2008) also studied the possible anti-inflammatory effects of probiotics with 62 volunteers who received either a placebo or a milk-drink with either Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis, or Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. shermanii JS. Fecal, venous blood and saliva samples were taken before, during and at the end of the trial period. Serum hsCRP levels were reduced in the all the probiotic groups. TNF-alpha from peripheral blood mononuclear cells was significantly lower in the L. rhamnosus LGG compared to the placebo group. IL-2 from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) was significantly lower in the B. animalis group compared to the placebo group. The researchers concluded that, “probiotic bacteria have strain-specific anti-inflammatory effects…”

References and more information are available from Probiotics – Protection Against Infection: Using Nature’s Tiny Warriors to Stem Infection and Fight Disease.