Inflammatory bowel disease: New probiotics from fungi may help

  • New research shows two fungi strains having a positive probiotic effect on the gut health in a mouse model.
  • Research into gut health generally focuses on bacteria, not fungi, so the role that fungi plays in the gut microbiome is understudied.
  • More research is needed before these results could be applied in a human clinical setting.
  • Gut inflammation is frequently caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Consulting with a doctor can help people understand the best options for managing their condition, which can include probiotics and other medications.

Fungi have been in our food for millennia.

The historical record shows that humans have been fermenting fruits and grains to produce alcoholic beverages and bread since around 6000 BCE, while cheese has been produced for even longer.

Despite this, relatively little is known about the role that fungi, in particular food-borne yeast, play in overall gut health.

Researchers say they have found that two specific fungi used to produce food products could potentially have a positive probiotic effect on gut inflammation.

Their findings were published today in mSystems, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

While the results are promising, the study authors said there’s more work to be done and cautioned against viewing the findings as a cure-all for stomach problems.

Fungi is an understudied area

Mathias Richard, Ph.D., a lead study author and the research director at INRAE in the Micalis Institute in Jouy-en-Josas, France, told Medical News Today that he and his colleagues didn’t expect to see much when they tested different strains of yeast on mouse models – but the results were a pleasant surprise.

“The strains of yeast have been used for decades in food production, but their health effects have not been thoroughly monitored. It was a way of probing such effects,” Richard explained. “The surprise came from the number: two out of five [strains] had a significant effect on a mouse model, which seemed a high number to us.”

Those two strains of yeast, Cyberlindnera jadinii and Kluyveromyces lactis, showed positive effects in treating inflammation in a mouse model with colitis.

Part of the action mechanism of C. jadinii appears to go through the modification of bacterial microbiota, which could explain this positive remodeling.

Understanding the mechanisms of yeast fungi

“We did not really identify precisely all the mechanisms involved in explaining the effects, so that’s what we should work on in the future,” said Richard. “Additionally, looking at other strains might be interesting to give a broader view of the potential of these strains.”

Based on these findings, researchers said it’s apparent that both strains of fungi show potential for treating gut inflammation, in particular inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which encompasses the conditions ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and is characterized by inflammation.

However, more research will be needed to make the jump from lab mice to people.

“There is a long way to go before anything can be done for IBD patients on the basis of our study, since our data is coming from in vitro analysis on mouse models, but it is an additional path of research that is interesting to follow,” Richard concluded.

Fungi and gut health: what we know

Rhianna Jones, is a registered nurse who specializes in gut health.

Jones, who was not part of the study, told Medical News Today that understanding the role of fungi in gut health is a work in progress.

“The diversity of food-borne yeasts and their potential effects on gut health is an emerging area of interest,” she explained. “While some food-borne yeasts have been studied for their probiotic potential, much remains unknown about their specific impact on the gut microbiome and human health.”

The research by Richard and his colleagues reported that fungi could have a positive probiotic effect on gut health. This is intriguing because while probiotics are known to have a positive impact on the gut microbiome, they generally come from bacteria, not fungus.

In any event, bacterial probiotics offer an option for people who are dealing with gut problems.

“Probiotics are live beneficial microorganisms, usually bacteria, that can support gut health when consumed in adequate amounts,” said Jones. “They can help maintain a balanced gut microbiome and have been associated with improved digestion, immunity and more. They’re available in various forms, including supplements and fermented foods like yogurt.”

The effects of inflammatory bowel disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 3 million adults in the United States report being diagnosed with IBD.

“Both are characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract,” said Jones. “Colitis primarily affects the colon, while Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive tract. Diagnosis typically involves endoscopic procedures, imaging, and biopsies. Treatment often includes anti-inflammatory medications, immunosuppressants, and lifestyle modifications.”

There isn’t currently a cure for these conditions, and owing to the delicate chemistry of the gut, it doesn’t appear that a cure is on the horizon.

However, there are numerous options on the table for managing IBD, particularly probiotics. As always, the best place to start is with a doctor’s consultation.

“Effective utilization involves selecting [probiotic] strains with proven benefits, considering individual needs, and consulting a healthcare provider,” said Jones.

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