Not just the gut: Probiotics and yogurt can protect against parasites, oxidative stress in the liver

The solution to parasitic infections lies in adding more bacteria to your body. Researchers from Egypt and Saudi Arabia studied the effects of probiotic or yogurt supplementation on oxidative stress and liver fibrosis in mice caused by the parasite Schistosoma mansoni. Their findings were published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Schistosomiasis is the most devastating parasitic infection next to malaria

Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a parasitic infection caused by S. mansoni, which are water-borne parasitic flatworms that belong to the group of blood flukes. S. mansoni live in certain types of freshwater snails. The larval stage of S. mansoni (cercariae) is the infectious form of the parasite. The snails release the cercariae into freshwater, which are then transmitted to a person whose skin has been exposed to the infested water.

Schistosomiasis is considered the second most devastating parasitic disease, following malaria. It is also one of the so-called neglected tropical diseases.

Schistosomiasis is not endemic to the U.S., but infections still encompass the globe. It is most prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas, particularly in communities with poor access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Estimates show that at least 206.4 million people required preventive treatment for schistosomiasis in 2016. It is also estimated that at least 91.4 percent of all cases live in Africa.

Good bacteria to the rescue

The researchers from King Saud University and Helwan University evaluated the effectiveness of beneficial microorganisms found in probiotics or yogurt in improving the effects of schistosomiasis in the liver, such as oxidative stress and fibrosis.

To test this, the researchers used mice infected with Schistosoma cercariae by tail immersion. Schistosoma eggs were deposited in the hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from certain organs to the liver. The mice were given oral treatment with either probiotics or yogurt for one week before infection and immediately post-infection.

The mice were sacrificed on day 56 following infection with S. mansoni, then the researchers harvested liver samples.

The researchers found that oral treatment of probiotics or yogurt significantly reduced the number and load of eggs, as well as the size of inflamed liver tissue (granuloma), which is an indication of depleted levels of matrix metalloproteinases 9 (MMP-9). MMP-9 is the main enzyme responsible for the degradation of extracellular matrix, which largely determines the structure and function of organic tissue.

The results also showed a significant decrease in the oxidative stress markers induced by S. mansoni infection, including lipid peroxidation and nitrite/nitrate. Moreover, the probiotics or yogurt reduced the levels of caspases-3 in liver tissue, which are crucial components of programmed cell death (apoptosis).

Lastly, the researchers observed that probiotic supplementation enhanced the level of some antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase) and reduced glutathione levels.

These findings suggested that supplementing with probiotics or yogurt have promising antiparasitic and hepatoprotective properties that may counter the effects of the dreaded schistosomiasis. (Related: Gut microbes can fight parasites: Probiotics may reduce infections, and severity of infections, in developing countries.)

Other sources of probiotics

Fermented foods are some of the best sources of probiotics. Besides yogurt, you can get your fix of these beneficial microbes from the following food sources:

  1. Certain types of cheese (gouda, mozzarella, cheddar and cottage cheese)
  2. Kefir
  3. Kimchi
  4. Kombucha
  5. Miso
  6. Natto
  7. Pickles
  8. Sauerkraut
  9. Tempeh
  10. Traditional buttermilk

There are more probiotic foods to choose from. And if you’re not keen on eating any of these, probiotic supplements can also provide you with much-needed good bacteria – not just for your gut, but also for overall health.

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