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How Probiotics Could Be Problematic For Those With Damaged Guts

Photo courtesy of the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
Woojung Shin in the lab at UT's Department of Biomedical Engineering.

From Texas Standard:

You've heard of probiotics. They're the live microorganisms that live in your gut and in foods such as yogurt and dietary supplements. In recent years, they've been touted as beneficial to health, especially to ease digestive disorders. But it turns out probiotics – these so-called "good bacteria" – may not actually be good for all people in all cases. As part of our "Spotlight on Health" project, we're highlighting this new finding published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Woojung Shin, a biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering, helped lead this research that used cutting-edge "organ-on-a-chip" technology. The device, roughly the size of a sugar cube, can replicate the activities, mechanics and physiological responses of organs and organ systems. Shin replicated a gastrointestinal tract on a chip and documented the effects probiotics had on it.

“So, probiotics are often thought as a good bacteria or nutrient supplement,” Shin says. But for people who have problems with or damage to their intestinal tract, Shin found that probiotics can be problematic. 

"Probiotics can invade and go to the other side of the intestinal epithelium and react with other human cell types like immune cells, and then they ultimately cause the inflammatory situation,” Shin says.

Shin says that there should be more studies to better understand the effects of probiotics on people with gastrointestinal problems, and recommends that people looking to take probiotic supplements talk to their doctors first.

Written by Morgan Kuehler.

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