The treatment, developed by the researchers from a bacterial strain isolated from the gut lining of healthy people, contains several million more bacteria than typically found in probiotic foods (200 billion daily), but the study does underline the role of bacteria in gut health.
Ulcerative colitis is one of the UK's most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease and affects an estimated 50,000 people in the UK, with a particularly high incidence in north east Scotland. The acute and chronic disease causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the large bowel.
Professor George Macfarlane and colleagues have found that the bowel wall of healthy people contained 30 times the amount of a specific type of probiotic bacteria than in colitis patients. They developed a probiotic, which will be patented by the university, and gave it to 18 colitis patients as a substitute for the anti-inflammatory effects normally gained from the 'friendly bacteria' in healthy people.
The trial results were dramatic showing that the symbiotic (the probiotic taken with food) had a highly significant effect on inflammatory molecules in the bowel wall, largely reducing the pain and discomfort commonly experienced by ulcerative colitis patients. Molecular and clinical tests showed that many symptoms associated with colitis were reduced to near normal levels.
Professor George Macfarlane told NutraIngredients.com: "Different species behave in different ways so I don't know if other probiotics would have a similar effect. Also you would have to eat gallons of yoghurt to get the amounts of bacteria we used."
But he added that animal studies have confirmed the role of the intestinal microflora in gut disease and other research shows how bacteria can reduce toxins in the gut.
The researcher is also working with Professor John Cummings to investigate the effects of sulphates and sulphites, used as a preservative in foods including beer, on health.
"They can be metabolized by bacteria to produce hydrogen sulphide, which is more toxic than cyanide," he said. "But one of the things you can do to reduce the levels of toxins like hydrogen sulphide is to eat complex carbohydrates. These stimulate bacterial growth and bacteria use up hydrogen sulphide during growth, mopping up the toxins."
The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Gut.