Probiotics and inflammatory bowel disease: Is there a scientific rationale?

Authors

  • Dr. Fergus Shanahan

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Medicine, University College Cork, National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland
    • Department of Medicine, Cork University Hospital, Cork, Ireland
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

Most conventional forms of drug therapy suppress or modify the host immunoinflammatory response and neglect the other contributor to disease pathogenesis—the environmental microflora. Probiotics are live microbial food ingredients that alter the enteric microflora and have a beneficial effect on health. The rationale for using probiotics in IBD is mainly based on evidence from human studies and experimental animal models implicating intestinal bacteria in the pathogenesis of these disorders. The relationship between bacteria and intestinal inflammation is complex and does not appear to reflect a simple cause and effect. Similarly, the field of probiotics is complex and in need of rigorous research. Until the indigenous flora are better characterized and mechanisms of probiotic action defined, the promise of probiotics in IBD is unlikely to be fulfilled. Because of strain-specific variability and clinical and therapeutic heterogeneity within Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, it cannot be assumed that a given probiotic is equally suitable for all individuals. Although preliminary results of probiotic therapy in animal models and humans with ulcerative colitis and pouchitis have been encouraging, their efficacy in treatment or maintenance of remission of Crohn's disease remains to be clarified. However, the circumstantial evidence for some form of biotherapeutic modification of the enteric flora in Crohn's disease seems compelling. In the future, probiotics may offer a simple adjunct to conventional therapy with the emphasis on diet shifting from one of nutritional replenishment alone to a more functional role.

Ancillary