Professor Jing-Ci Zhu -- study leader from the Third Military Medical University School of Nursing and colleagues at the North Sichuan Medical College and Hospital in China -- said traumatic brain injury is associated with a profound suppression of a patient's ability to fight infection. Probiotics, found in yogurt and supplements, are live microorganisms thought to be beneficial to the host organism.
Patients often suffer hyper-inflammation due to the brain releasing glucocorticoids in response to the injury, the researchers said.
Suppression of the immune system can be measured by an alteration of helper T-cells (Th) from Th1 -- which stimulate action of macrophages to fight infection -- to Th2. Th2 cells recruit B-cells, which in turn are involved in antibody production.
The switch from Th1 to Th2 leaves patients vulnerable to infections including ventilator-associated pneumonia and sepsis, the researchers said.
In a small scale trial, 52 patients who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and who were being treated in the intensive care unit were either treated as usual or had their nutrition supplemented with probiotics.
The study, published in the journal Critical Care, found those who received the probiotics had increased interferon levels and a reduced number of infections, and spent less time in intensive care.