Probiotics May Improve Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Researchers explore the use of probiotics to alter communication between brain and immune system.

Researchers explore the use of probiotics to alter communication between brain and immune system.

The behavioral symptoms of chronic inflammatory disease may be improved through the use of probiotics, a recent study indicates.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study analyzed how probiotics can alter communication between the immune system and the brain, which may improve issues faced by patients with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, including fatigue, depression, and social withdrawal.

Researchers administered probiotics to mice with liver inflammation, which was found to decrease those behavioral issues.

The study noted that microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract supports digestion and immune system health. The mechanism of the effect probiotics has on the brain is has yet to be determined, but has been associated with immune system changes.

For the current study, the mice with liver inflammation received either a probiotic mixture or a placebo while researchers measured behavioral symptoms by examining how much time mice spent in social behaviors instead of isolation.

While it is unknown how inflammatory diseases change brain function and behavior, prior research has pointed to the increased production of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). As a result, the current study included measurements for the amount of TNF-α circulating in the blood and the amount of activated immune cells in the brain.

The results of the study showed that mice receiving probiotics spent more time engaging in social behaviors compared with mice that received a placebo. Mice in the probiotics group also had lower blood levels of TNF-α and less activated immune cells in the brain compared with mice in the placebo group.

Furthermore, researchers noted that probiotics did not change liver inflammation severity.

"In the setting of inflammatory disease, eating probiotics may be a novel way to improve the disease-associated symptoms that negatively impact the lives of patients," study author Mark Swain said.