Probiotics and natural herbs may assist in preventing liver disease

Last May we talked about a study that described gut dysbiosis as an underlying cause to the development of steatosis and liver failure.  In brief, the researchers theorized that opportunistic gram negative bacteria can populate the gut as a result of gut dysbiosis.  These bacteria can release lipopolysaccharides into the blood stream, and upon reaching the liver, induce inflammatory toxic damage leading to steatosis. 

Researchers in China have investigated similar theories regarding the microbiome and its role in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  NAFLD is a liver malady with an unknown root cause and pathogenesis.  There is no known cure, and unfortunately many patients diagnosed with this condition end up developing non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fibrosis, damaging the liver architecture and presenting potential fatal consequences.  Previous research has shown that lipopolysaccharides from gram-negative bacteria can enter the liver through the portal vein of the liver.  Furthermore, gut dysbiosis can lead to a disproportionate amount of gram-negative bacteria that can produce damaging endotoxins and metabolites.  These investigators address the microbiome concept and examined to see whether a probiotic paired with a natural herb would have any effect or could possibly remedy NAFLD in rats. 

A well-known cholesterol-lowering probiotic was used in addition to a natural herb called Cassia obtusifolia L. (AC).  The molecular components in the AC herb have been shown to have beneficial effects on lower fat and cholesterol, as well as anti-oxidant and neuroprotective properties.  Additionally, the herb has been shown to protect liver function in rats that have experienced liver injury.  The primary hypothesis was that cholesterol-lowering probiotics administered concomitantly with the AC herb could protect rats from NAFLD by way of symbiotic protection of microbial structure and metabolism of the gut microbiome. 

30 rats were divided into 5 groups.  Group 1 was the control, receiving no treatment and a normal chow diet.  Group 2 received a high-fat diet (HFD) and established the NAFLD model.  The remaining 3 groups were all kept on high-fat diets and were distinguished by drug administration: one group received cholesterol-lowering probiotic alone, one received the AC alone, and the final received both the probiotic and the AC herb. 

150 days after diet and drug treatment, the researchers sacrificed that animals and examined lipid parameters, genes related to fat synthesis (in the liver), and species diversity of the gut microbiomes in rats.  Lipid levels in the rats treated with the probiotic and the AC herb were significantly reduced as compared to the HFD group that did not receive any treatment.  Also, reduced levels of hepatic steatosis were observed in the probiotic+AC group.  Furthermore, the probiotic+AC group demonstrated improved mucosal barrier function, as demonstrated by histological analysis showing intact intestinal villi.  Lastly, fecal analysis of the microbiome composition revealed that the microbiome composition in the probiotic+AC combination therapy group were most similar to that of group 1, the normal chow group.  Specifically, this included high populations of Bacteroides and Lactobacillus genus.

These findings demonstrate an interesting association, and among other things point to the potential value of Eastern medicine.  Many more studies, conducted at a larger scale, should be carried out in the future as NAFLD is an ailment with an unmet medical need.  

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