Could Probiotics Help Those With Hepatitis C?
As the undisputed center of the immune system, the intestinal tract has long been regarded as a location capable of revealing a person’s overall health. The tiny, beneficial bacteria that colonize the intestines are essential to the proper functioning of our immune system – but many of us are severely deficient in these microorganisms. Probiotics contain different strains of healthy gut flora and are believed to help restock the intestinal tract with these desirable living bacteria. A growing list of reasons supports the notion that those with Hepatitis C will benefit from probiotic supplementation.
Although relatively new to mainstream medicine, knowledge of probiotics’ value to human health has been around for a long time. In 1908, Ellie Metchnikoff was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the important role that probiotics play in the immune response. Probiotics are dietary supplements of live bacteria or yeasts intended to restore a healthful balance of the body’s naturally occurring gut flora.
More than 50 percent of the body’s immune cells reside in the intestinal lining. Beneficial bacteria in the intestines play several important roles, as they:
- improve the function of the entire intestinal tract
- protect the body against pathogenic bacteria by blocking their entrance
- help produce necessary vitamins and hormones
- maintain the chemical balance of the intestinal tract
- stimulate the immunologic function of the spleen
- compete with harmful bacteria for nutrients, which curtails the growth of harmful bacteria
Decline of Good Bacteria
Despite a normal ratio of healthy bacteria being 85 percent good to 15 percent bad, experts believe that ratio is reversed in many individuals. Several reasons that bad intestinal bacteria outnumber the good intestinal bacteria are:
- Antibiotics prescribed for fighting infections also kill healthy intestinal bacteria.
- Chlorine used to sterilize drinking water kills healthy bacteria.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs kill healthy intestinal bacteria.
- Fluoride used in water for preventing cavities is toxic to healthy intestinal bacteria.
According to a myriad of health experts, including those at the University of Maryland Medical Center, probiotics promote gastrointestinal and immune health for those with severe viral infections, such as viral hepatitis. These two studies affirm this notion:
- As published in the May 2009 edition of the Journal of Nutrition, Italian researchers found that administrating probiotics could limit oxidative and inflammatory liver damage in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Those with Hepatitis C may or may not have a concurrent diagnosis of fatty liver disease; however, these results demonstrate that probiotics exert a liver protective effect. Such an effect would definitely benefit those with chronic Hepatitis C.
- As published in the July 2005 edition of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, researchers evaluated the effect probiotics therapy had on the liver for those with various types of chronic liver disease. Results of the study suggest that manipulation of intestinal flora should be taken into consideration as a possible adjunctive therapy in some types of chronic liver diseases – particularly individuals with cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis and Probiotics
For those with Hepatitis C who have liver cirrhosis, probiotics appear to offer some help. Those with cirrhosis of the liver are often found to have an imbalance of intestinal bacteria flora. In addition, probiotics reduce bacterial endotoxins that further challenge the liver. For these reasons, experts believe that those who have cirrhosis – where the liver is permanently scarred and hardened – can especially benefit from probiotics.
The scientific evidence suggests that probiotics may be beneficial in protecting and supporting the liver, but this conclusion is not airtight. There has not been a double-blind, large-scale clinical trial evaluating the effect of probiotics specifically for chronic Hepatitis C. The healthcare community is waiting for in-depth research on how the gut flora balance obstructs or assists those with chronic Hepatitis C. In the meantime, there are plenty of reasons for those with Hepatitis C to consider supplementing with beneficial intestinal bacteria.
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