IBD & The Gut: New Research & The Truth about Colonics and Probiotics
There was a new study published in the May 29, 2008 issue of Nature, a science and medicine journal, which may point researchers and pharmaceutical companies in a new direction of how to treat IBD. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School teamed up to conduct a study using mice and one of the thousands of bacteria found in the mammalian gut. The researchers identified a potentially beneficial bacteria known as, Bacteroides fragilis which showed promise in restoring an immune system balance in the mice used in the study.
In the study, immune compromised mice who were identified to have a specific pathogen-free microbiotica, were administered a dose of Helicobacter hepaticus, an intestinal bacterium, and developed what the researchers called a “rip roaring” case of IBD. But, when the researchers combined B. fragilis with the Helicobacter the mice remained fine. Through further experimentation, researchers found that a particular sugar molecule in the B. fragilis called polysaccharide A, or PSA, seemed to be the key factor in the prevention of IBD in the mice. In a follow-up study, mice that were given Helicobacter combined with PSA purified from the B. fragilis bacteria no IBD symptoms appeared.
Even though the findings are potentially promising, the researchers have cautioned that while positive results were seen in the study’s mice, PSA might or might not have the same effect in humans. The study’s results, however, should prove helpful to scientists and pharmaceutical companies who continue to look for new sources for treating both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
Considering the study I cited above I’ve also decided a discussion about gut bacteria and the use of colonics seems prudent. Over the years I’ve received numerous questions from both IBD and IBS sufferers about using colonics to help ease their symptoms of diarrhea, cramps, and gas. While it is strictly up to each patient to make their own well-informed decision about treatment options in conjunction with their doctor I firmly believe that colonics are not beneficial for people with IBD or IBS, and could possibly cause worse problems in the end.
Our gut has thousands of bacteria that live there - both good bacteria and bad bacteria, and in order to function properly the gut needs both kinds. There are those people out there who believe the colon is dirty and the debris in the colon is the cause of all ills in the body. However, a great number of doctors I’ve talked to claim, and rightly so, I believe, that the colon eliminates the waste and bacteria that it needs to eliminate as well as absorbing proper amounts of nutrients, water, and sodium to maintain the proper balance of fluids and electrolytes. Colon cleansing, or detox, as it’s sometimes called, disrupts the balance and in certain people can be downright dangerous by causing dehydration or salt depletion.
For those of us with IBD colon cleansing can be even trickier because with frequent or severe diarrhea our gut bacteria, as well as our salt and electrolyte levels can already be out of balance.
The only time colon cleansing is necessary is when directed by your doctor to prepare for a test, such as a colonoscopy, or for certain surgeries. I know that for me, the colon cleanse for a colonoscopy so depletes my body of salt, sugar, and electrolytes that it can take me a week or two to fully recover from the “cleanse.”
I believe that the better way to treat your colon is to help keep it populated with beneficial bacteria, such as those found in Probiotics and yogurt.
Probiotics is basically a fancy name for a capsule that contains good gut bacteria such as acidophilus, lactobacillus, and bifidus. In my opinion the best probiotics are those that 1. need to be refrigerated to keep the active cultures alive; 2. have at least 3 billion active cultures per capsule - 5-10 billion per capsule is even better; and, 3. have at least three different bacteria strains included in the formula. Today, probiotics can easily be found in health food stores, or places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
If you prefer to eat your way to good gut health, then yogurt can be a good way to go to adding more good bacteria to your gut. But, you have to pick the right yogurt. All yogurt on the grocery store shelves today is not created equally. I would caution against eating those yogurts that have added sugars and other preservatives. Reading labels and shopping in the “healthy” or “organic” section of the grocery store is your best bet to finding “natural” yogurt without all those nasty extras that may simply serve to upset your gut all the more. Or, if you’re the adventurous type, try making your own yogurt at home. Recipes abound, the process is relatively simple after your first or second time, and you can control what goes into your yogurt and therefore into your body.
Here’s to happy guts
For more information on probiotics click here.
Elizabeth wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.