Can probiotic yogurt help with lupus?
While most of science disagrees, corporate marketing departments have embraced every chance to imply their product helps with digestion and whatever else can sell product. A new paper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology adds to that, finding that Lactobacillus species, commonly seen in yogurt cultures, correlate in the guts of mouse models, with mitigation of lupus symptoms, while Lachnospiraceae, a type of Clostridia, correlate with worsening.
In the study, the investigators first showed that mouse models of lupus had higher levels of Lachnospiraceae (a type of Clostridia), and lower Lactobacillus than control mice. They also compared male and female mice, and found that the differences were present only in females. These results suggest that the gut bacteria may contribute to lupus, a disease which is nine times as prevalent in women as in men, says first author Husen Zhang of Virginia Tech.
They also monitored the gut microbiota over time in both lupus and control mice, and found that in the former, Clostridia increased in both early and late stages of the disease.
In further experiments, the investigators treated the symptoms in the lupus mice with either retinoic acid alone or vitamin A plus retinoic acid. The latter worsened the symptoms—surprisingly, Luo says, because it had been expected to reduce them—and in those mice, Clostridia increased, while Lactobacillus declined. Retinoic acid alone improved the symptoms, with opposite population changes in the gut bacteria.
The research suggests, but does not prove that altering the gut microbiota could mitigate lupus. Nonetheless, Luo suggests that people with lupus should eat Lactobacillus-containing probiotics, such as live culture yogurts, to reduce lupus flares. More generally, "The use of probiotics, prebiotics, and antibiotics has the potential to alter microbiota dysbiosis, which in turn could improve lupus symptoms," says Zhang.
Ultimately, says principal investigator Xin Luo of Virginia Tech, fecal transplant might prove valuable as a treatment for lupus.
"We were inspired in part to perform this research by a study on type 1 diabetes, which found that that disease is dependent on gut microbiota," says Zhang. "Like type 1 diabetes, lupus is an autoimmune disease that is even more prevalent [than type 1 diabetes] in women."