Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are proven to improve gut health by boosting the population of “helpful” microbes that reside in our gut, enhancing overall health. A new study suggests that probiotics are beneficial for liver health as well. This study holds relevance for an already booming probiotics industry and exploring the importance of the microbiome for our overall health.
The research was conducted by Bejan Saeedi, a doctoral candidate at Emory University, to determine the beneficial effects of probiotics beyond gastrointestinal tract. It will be presented at the annual meeting of American Society for Investigative Pathology during the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting.
Saeedi and his colleagues focused their study on the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (known as LGG), a species common in many over-the-counter probiotic formulations. They gave mice food laced with LGG for two weeks and then examined how they responded to a high dose of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol).
Taking too much acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage and even death by increasing the abundance of a form of oxygen called free radicals, a process known as oxidative stress. However, the researchers found that mice receiving the probiotic treatment suffered less liver damage when presented with an overdose of acetaminophen compared with mice that did not receive probiotics.
“Administration of the probiotic LGG to mice improves the antioxidant response of the liver, protecting it from oxidative damage produced by drugs such as acetaminophen,” explained Saeedi.
The liver is a hub for removing toxins from the blood and plays an important role in the body’s processes for converting food into energy. Since it is “downstream” of the gastrointestinal tract in the digestive process, it makes sense that the composition of bacteria in the gut could affect the functioning of the liver.
Previous research by Saeedi’s colleagues has traced the molecular process by which LGG appears to protect against oxidative liver injury. That research points to the role of a protein called Nrf2, which regulates the expression of genes involved in fighting free radicals.
Other studies in mice have previously shown that LGG can protect against alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Saeedi said studies in human volunteers would be needed to definitively test the potential clinical benefits of LGG in humans.