(NaturalNews) The "good" bacteria that live in the intestines of healthy people are linked with a variety of health benefits. In fact, as Natural News recently reported, studies have shown that probiotics -- live microbes found in yogurt, kefir and supplements that promote healthy intestinal flora -- can even lower levels of so-called bad cholesterol.
Now comes new research by scientist Kriston Ganguli and her colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School showing that natural chemicals secreted by good bacteria that typically live in the intestines of babies could reduce the frequency and severity of a common and often deadly disease that can strike premature infants, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
Although clinical trials of probiotics have shown promise in reducing both the incidence and severity of NEC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) won't approve the use of whole bacteria on premature infants. So, in order to figure out a way to get the benefits without using the bacteria themselves, Ganguli and her research team of scientists zeroed in on secretions from probiotic bacteria to see if they could prevent NEC. The results of their investigation, just published in the American Journal of Physiology -- Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology show this probiotic-derived approach could be extremely effective.
That's important because NEC affects between eight and 13 percent of very low birth weight infants (those under three pounds, four ounces), and up to half of these babies will die. As gut bacteria colonizes babies with NEC, those with the disease have an extreme inflammatory reaction causing damage and death of tissues that often requires surgery to correct. Steroids are one of the only ways to try and prevent NEC in these tiny infants, but the use of these powerful drugs can cause severe complications, too.
For their study, the researchers used intestinal tissue from infants with NEC as well as fetal intestinal tissues. They grew two probiotic strains of bacteria, L. acidophilus and B. infantus, in liquid culture medium, and then removed the bacteria from the cultures. The material in which these bacteria were grown, called probiotic conditioned medium (PCM), contained secretions from the bacteria.
Next, the scientists exposed human immature and mature intestinal tissues to either PCM or to a control (material usually used to grow bacteria that had never contained microbes). As part of their experiment, they also exposed some tissues to a compound derived from bacteria that's known to cause inflammation. Then they analyzed the tissues for expression of genes known to respond to inflammation and checked to see the separate effects of secretions from the two different probiotic strains.
The results showed that treatment with just the PCM significantly reduced inflammation in both immature intestinal tissue and tissue from infants with NEC. The PCM-exposed tissue also showed reduced activity of several genes linked with inflammation. PCM exposure did not affect mature intestinal tissue.
"Since an immaturity of intestinal immune responses is felt to be partially responsible for the development of NEC, the bioactive factors in PCM may be useful as an effective, targeted preventive strategy without the broad effects of steroids," Dr. Ganguli explained in a media statement.
Bottom line: if purified secretions from probiotic bacteria can reduce the severity and incidence of NEC in very low birth weight infants, it could eventually help thousands of tiny babies and save countless lives. In fact, the researchers noted, this line of probiotic research may ultimately change the standard of care for these infants.
About the author: Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.