A team of Irish scientists and doctors has discovered that a type of bacteria found in the gut of newborn babies can prevent or even heal ulcers caused by the painkiller aspirin.
Aspirin is widely used for pain relief, suppression of inflammation and prevention of heart disease and stroke, but using it regularly, even in small amounts, can result in intestinal damage and ulcers.
Now a new study carried out in Cork has shown that bifidobacteria, which is commonly found in the guts of newborns but tends to decline as people age, can prevent and heal that aspirin-induced damage.
“Earlier this year we showed that these bacteria can stimulate the lining cells in the gut to grow. We believed they might be something that could be used to heal ulcers,” said Prof Fergus Shanahan, principal investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland, based at University College Cork.
“We found it could help to heal ulcers in mice,” he said, adding that the benefits were also found to be applicable to humans. Their conclusions followed a study involving 70 people and a four-way collaboration between scientists at APC Microbiome Ireland, clinicians at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, and two companies, Atlantia Food Clinical Trials and the multinational biosciences company Chr Hansen.
The research provides photographic evidence in human volunteers that aspirin-induced ulcers can be reduced by the bifidobacteria.
“Intestinal ulcers can be caused by quite small amounts of aspirin if they are taken regularly, so this will have a potentially huge impact on the health of many people, particularly those who take larger doses of aspirin or aspirin-like drugs,” Prof Shanahan said.
Dr Martin Buckley, a consultant gastroenterologist at Mercy University Hospital, said that what was extremely impressive about the research was the subsequent reversal of this type of damage by the bifidobacterium, which, he said, could be added as a natural supplement to the diet of patients on long-term aspirin.
Prof Shanahan said a larger study was under way and it was hoped a product containing bifidobacterium would go on general sale within the next three years.
The research is published in the journal Gastroenterology.