Good gut bacteria might prevent disease processes leading to heart disease in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, according to a mice study that appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.
The findings add to the growing insight that gut bacteria play a key role in controlling the immune system, which opens the possibility of managing autoimmune conditions, like lupus, with probiotic treatment and dietary changes.
The study, “Lactobacillus paracasei GMNL-32 exerts a therapeutic effect on cardiac abnormalities in NZB/W F1 mice,” showed that feeding lupus-affected mice a bacterial species called Lactobacillus paracasei GMNL-32 prevented fibrosis and cell death and improved the heart muscle structure.
The research team at China Medical University in Taiwan previously examined how the bacterial strain affects animals that have become obese because of poor diet. Their findings showed that the treatment prevented cell death in the heart and improved its function.
Cardiovascular disease is common in lupus, affecting up to one-fourth of patients. Researchers think that fibrotic processes in blood vessels and the heart muscle, as well as autoantibody-triggered inflammation, contribute to heart disease in this patient group.
This time, researchers used a mouse model of lupus to evaluate the actions of the GMNL-32 bacterial strain. They fed mice the probiotic for 12 weeks before examining their heart.
While the bacteria act in the gut, researchers noted that treated mice had a thicker wall of the lower left heart chamber, indicating less breakdown of the heart muscle compared to control mice.
GMNL-32 also lowered the levels of heart apoptosis, which is cell death triggered by a self-destruction mechanism. Instead, treated mice had increased levels of molecules that indicate cell survival in their hearts.
Mice receiving the probiotic had lower levels of fibrosis in the heart, with a less distorted tissue architecture compared to control mice.
Researchers believe that gut bacteria can influence the immune system through interactions with immune cells in the gut mucosa, which inform immune processes throughout the body.
The findings suggest that supplementation with the GMNL-32 strain of Lactobacillus paracasei might be a treatment option for lupus patients affected by cardiovascular disease.