Probiotics as Treatment for Hepatic Encephalopathy
Researchers report at the International Liver Congress™ 2013 that probiotics may soon become part of the treatment plan for managing hepatic encephalopathy, a neuropsychiatric abnormality associated with liver failure and characterized by intellectual impairment, personality changes, and reduced levels of consciousness.
Hepatic encephalopathy is a complication of advanced liver disease that is often difficult to treat. It is caused by the accumulation of toxins in the blood that are not removed by the liver. Treatment usually involves the use of antibiotics or laxatives, which are used to prevent the production of toxic substances in the intestine. Gut bacteria produce ammonia, which is believed to be one of the main mediators of brain dysfunction in people with hepatic encephalopathy. Probiotics work by increasing the number of non-urease producing gut bacteria, which reduce ammonia production. Probiotics are live bacteria that produce health benefits on the host when taken in adequate amounts.
The study analyzed the effects of probiotics in preventing hepatic encephalopathy in 160 patients with liver cirrhosis (a severe form of liver disease resulting in live failure) over a period of about nine months. After three months of treatment with probiotics in capsule form, the researchers found significant improvements in reducing the patients’ blood ammonia levels. In contrast, patients taking a placebo developed overt encephalopathy.
European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) Treasurer Prof. Mauro Bernardi believes that the new findings would provide a positive impact for patients with cirrhosis who are at risk of developing hepatic encephalopathy, which typically has a very poor outcome.
European Association for the Study of the Liver. Probiotics found to reduce hepatic encephalopathy. ScienceDaily.