Probiotics May Help Your Immune System Fight Off Parasites
You may know that probiotics — live bacteria cultures that you can ingest — can improve your digestion and help build up your immune system. It turns out they could be the gut’s defensive warrior in the battle against parasites. (A good thing if you’re a sushi lover.)
Early studies suggest that probiotics may help the gut fight off parasite infections, such as toxoplasmosis, by stimulating the body’s defense mechanism, according to research in Cell Host & Microbe. Toxoplasmosis is thought to affect nearly billion people worldwide and can be spread by contact with contaminated cat feces.
Using mice susceptible to Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis, University of Texas Southwestern researchers infected the mice with T. gondii. Despite not having the immune capacity normally needed to fight off this parasite, the animals’ body did react to the infection. Researchers found that good bacteria in the gut activated the mice’s immune system and induced various inflammatory responses against the parasite. In fact, the good bacteria helped the mice mobilize enough signaling proteins to defeat the infection altogether.
How is this possible? It could be that the probiotics occupy space in the intestine, making it difficult for the parasite to attach itself to the intestinal wall. Ultimately, the researchers think that by looking at the good bacteria — which probiotics foster, doctors can understand more about a person’s susceptibility to infectious disease. Next up: figuring out which bacterial species confer the greatest benefits. (Benson A. et al. Cell Host & Microbe. August 20, 2009. 6(2): 187-196.)
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: While researchers work to find a bacteria strain to defeat the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, there are a couple of strains that have already been found to boost your overall immunity. Science has found that L. acidophilus, for example, is very effective in changing the flora in the gut, which in turn boosts your immune system.