April is a wonderful time of the year. Spring is nature’s way of saying, “let’s party.”(1)

Planting new flowers and watching the first blossoms of the year are very joyful and relaxing activities, especially after enduring the cold gray days of winter.

Unfortunately, despite its beauty, April can sometimes be stressful for various reasons. At the forefront of many people’s mind is the need to file taxes. Or, you may be waiting to hear where your children will be going to school next year, or if they will find a job. If you happen to be one of those millions of people experiencing stress this season, you may want to consider taking a probiotic after you read this month’s newsletter.

Stress Causes Changes in Bacteria

Two very interesting articles were published in March. These articles investigated how stress can adversely affect the healthy bacteria of intestines(2,3) .

In my practice of gastroenterology, I would see many patients who had ongoing symptoms of abdominal pain and change in stool habits. Despite comprehensive evaluations, no specific cause could be found for many of the patients. As a result, they would be labeled with the diagnosis of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (IBS).

At the time, it was thought that the symptoms of IBS were frequently due to stress. The common therapies included medications that combined an antispasmodic and a mild tranquilizer like Librax, Donnatal or Bentyl. These medications were treating the symptoms, but not the cause of stress. If medical researchers can determine the cause of the symptoms, then better therapy can be developed.

Immune System and Stress Regulation

The intestines contain 70% of our immune cells. It’s these cells that are responsible for monitoring the bacteria entering our system. Harmful bacteria stimulate the intestines to release inflammatory mediators (cytokines) in an effort to destroy the harmful bacteria. An increase in these mediators can result in intestinal inflammation, which in turn causes the symptoms of IBS.

One study(3)  published in March measured the level of inflammatory cytokines in 30 patients with IBS and in 30 normal controls. The level of cytokines were much higher in the IBS group – indicating there is a link between IBS and cytokines.

The other study(2)  investigated the intestinal bacteria in mice before and after they were exposed to a stressful situation. Following exposure to the stress, there was a change in the composition of the intestinal bacteria. With this change came an increase in harmful bacteria, which then induced the immune system to release inflammatory cytokines.

These research studies help to understand the cause of IBS symptoms. Now, the question is how to decrease the inflammation induced by stress. Doing this will be a giant step toward “treating” the symptoms of IBS.

Fortunately, scientific studies(4,5)  have already demonstrated that giving probiotics can reduce the immune system release of inflammatory cytokines, thereby easing IBS symptoms.

Take Home Message

If you are experiencing some stress and GI symptoms, consider taking a high quality probiotic like EndoMune so you can fully enjoy this springtime.

Eat healthy, exercise and live well!
Dr. Hoberman

References:

(1) Quote by Robin Williams

(2) Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Bailey MT, Dowd SE, Galley JD, Hufnagle AR, Allen RG, Lyte M. Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Mar;25(3):397-407

(3) Altered peripheral toll-like receptor responses in the irritable bowel syndrome. McKernan DP, Gaszner G, Quigley EM, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011 May;33(9):1045-52.

(4) The role of microbiota and probiotics in stress-induced gastro-intestinal damage.Lutgendorff F, Akkermans LM, Söderholm JD. Curr Mol Med. 2008 Jun;8(4):282-98

(5) Therapies aimed at the gut microbiota and inflammation: antibiotics, prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, anti-inflammatory therapies.Quigley EM.Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2011 Mar;40(1):207-22