A new study published in finds that maintaining a healthy gut through the use of probiotics can improve recovery from spinal cord injury.
Researchers from The Ohio State University have found that spinal cord injury alters the type of bacteria living in the gut and that these changes can aggravate the extent of neurological damage and impair recovery of spinal cord injuries.
Trillions of bacteria live in the gastrointestinal tract, known as the gut microbiota, and communicate with the central nervous system (CNS) by interacting with immune cells and secreting metabolites that pass through the blood-brain carrier. In fact, over 70 percent of immune cells in the body are located within the gut and when dysbiosis occurs from an unhealthy gut it can play a role in the progression of neurological disorders including autism, pain, anxiety and inflammation.
Previously, autoimmune diseases – such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes – have been linked to dysbiois, the disruption of “good” bacteria depleted and overrun by “bad” bacteria in the gut. From this knowledge, researchers hypothesized that changes in the gut microbiome could affect spinal cord injury recovery and that counteracting these changes with probiotics could aid patients’ recovery.
To test this theory, researchers performed an experiment on mice under the direction of Philip G. Popovich at the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair, and found that spinal cord injury significantly altered the gut microbiome of mice inducing the migration of gut bacteria into other tissues of the body and activating proinflammatory immune cells.
In this study, mice that showed the largest changes in their gut bacteria tended to recover poorly from spinal cord injuries. However, when injured mice were given daily doses of probiotics to restore levels of healthy gut bacteria, they showed less spinal damage and improved recovery. Researchers indicate that the probiotics contained large numbers of lactic acid-producing bacteria, which activated a gut-associated immune T cells that can inhibit inflammation and prevent extra damage to the spinal cord.
Although the data from this study suggest that counteracting gut changes with probiotics could help patients who are recovering from spinal cord injuries, the results have not yet been confirmed in humans. However, the use of probiotics can be beneficial for several other reasons and can improve overall health.
- Kristina A. Kigerl, Jodie C.E. Hall, Lingling Wang, Xiaokui Mo, Zhongtang Yu, Phillip G. Popovich. Gut dysbiosis impairs recovery after spinal cord injury. , 2016; jem.20151345 DOI:10.1084/jem.20151345