Crohn's disease is a serious gastrointestinal disorder with the potential to dramatically impact a patient's life, and so far, evidence of any help from probiotics is unclear.
Although studies have found probiotics — which are bacteria introduced to your body that have beneficial effects — may help to alleviate symptoms in some gastrointestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome
, that is not the case for Crohn's disease.
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"I'm a great believer in probiotics," Walter J. Coyle, MD, director of the Gastrointestinal Program at Scripps Clinic Medical Center in La Jolla, California, told WebMD
. "I definitely recommend them for irritable bowel syndrome, regulation, and bloating. But frankly, when it comes to inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis, we have almost no scientific evidence that they are beneficial."
Ulcerative colitis is similar to Crohn's disease, but is usually found in the "innermost layer of the large intestine and rectum," according to the University of Maryland
"[Crohn's] disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes ongoing inflammation of the intestinal tract from the mouth to the rectum," the website said, adding that it "can occur anywhere in the intestine, often in patches surrounded by healthy tissue, and can spread deeper into the tissues."
Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are both part of a broad disease category called inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBD.
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In theory, WebMD said, the idea that probiotics may help IBD diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis makes sense. "Researchers have discovered probiotic bacteria can influence the activity of immune cells and the cells that line the intestines," the website said. "Specifically, these friendly bacteria appear to block disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the lining of the intestines. There's also evidence that the good bugs block chemical factors involved in inflammation."
IBD patients certainly seem to believe probiotics can make a difference. In a study reported on UpToDate
, the percentage of patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, 43 and 51 respectively, is significantly higher than the 21 percent of the healthy population that take probiotics.
But so far, evidence-based science is lacking in definitive support for the use of probiotics in treating Crohn's disease, although according to research reported by NPR
, scientists are honing in on change in gut microbiota as at least one potential cause of Crohn's disease. Researchers found in studying the population of microbes in the guts of Crohn's patients that they had less diversity than healthy people in the gut microbes and more bacteria associated with increased inflammation.
As such research into the cause of Crohn's disease continues, it may be that probiotics may someday play an important role in relieving symptoms of the disease.
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