Senior study author and gastroenterologist Dr. John Y. Kao, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, and colleagues Dr. Chung Owyang, Gary Huffnagle, Dr. Vincent Young identified the way stress significantly altered the composition of gut bacteria and the role of probiotics. They found when stressed, mice produced corticotropin-releasing hormone that prevented inflammasomes from doing their job.
Pretreatment with probiotic therapy reduced inflammation in mice with stress-induced small bowel inflammation, the researchers said.
The study, published in the journal Gastroenterology, revealed stress alters brain-gut interactions and induces the intestinal inflammation that often leads to severe or chronic belly pain, loss of appetite and diarrhea.
"The effect of stress could be protected with probiotics, which reversed the inhibition of the inflammasome," Kao said in a statement. "This study reveals an important mechanism for explaining why treating irritable bowel syndrome patients with probiotics makes sense."
Probiotics are live bacteria that help grow the gut-dwelling "good" bacteria that keep pathogens in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption and contribute to immune function, Kao said.
"Additional clinical study is required to determine the optimal probiotic therapy," Kao said. "Patients can start living healthier lifestyles to improve their gut microbiota such as adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, and looking for ways to keep stress in check."