Probiotics for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

A recent study has found that probiotics can aid recovery from spinal cord injury. Gut bacteria are microorganisms that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed. They are usually added to yoghurts or taken as food supplements. The “good” or “friendly” bacteria are thought to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut when it has been disrupted by an illness or treatment.

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Facts

Spinal cord injury can be very debilitating and costly.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, in the United States alone;

  • The annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI) is approximately 54 cases per million population or approximately 17,000 new SCI cases each year.
  • The number of people who are alive in 2016 who have SCI has been estimated to be approximately 282,000 persons
  • Vehicle crashes are currently the leading cause of injury, followed by falls, acts of violence , and sports/recreation activities
  • In terms of cost, indirect costs averaged $72,047 per year in 2015 dollars. See Summary of direct cost in the screen shot below
SCI Cost

Research now shows that probiotics is one the simplest and affordable hope for recovery for people suffering from spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries cause major changes in the bacteria living inside the gut. The changes contribute to the cascade of physical problems that cause many people to quickly decline after the injury.

How Probiotics Help Spinal Cord Injury Recovery-Study

Using mice as an experiment the effect of spinal cord injuries is demonstrated. A research was carried out in New York  led by Philip G. Popovich of Ohio state Univesity  and Kristina Kigerl

  1. To show how the spinal cord injuries cause changes in the gut and their effects
  2. To show how to counteract these changes with probiotics to aid in recovery
  3. To also show the how probiotics are better than antibiotics in spinal cord recovery.

The trillions of microbes that exist in the gastrointestinal tract have emerged as pivotal regulators of human development and physiology. Spinal cord injuries cause dramatic shifts in the types of bacteria normally found in the gut resulting in unhealthy bacterial balance  in the gut called dysbiosis which can cause neurological disease.

The injuries cause the bacteria to leave the gut and migrate to other issues in the body. In the experiment mice who had dysbiosis before their spinal cord injuries before their spinal cord injuries did not recover as well and had problems related to their spinal cord injury.

The dysbiosis also increased spinal inflammation and activated immune cells found with the gut.

In an effort to restore a healthy gut microbiota and block the detrimental effects of dysbiosis after a spinal cord injury, the mice was treated with VSL#3, a medical grade  probiotic , starting immediately after the injury and continuing daily.

how probiotics may help spinal cord injury recovery
spinal cord injury


It was found out that the treatment improved neurological recovery and reduced spinal cord pathology while simultaneously increasing gut- associated regulatory T cells.

The probiotics, containing large numbers of lactic acid producing bacteria activated  a regulatory T cells, a type of immune cell that can suppress inflammation, these cells may prevent damage to the spinal cord after injury. The probiotic bacteria may also boost spinal cord recovery by secreting factors that enhance neuronal growth and function.

Yet still in other previous studies, there is evidence that probiotics may aid in preventing and treating antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and/or Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhoea in patients with spinal cord injury

Probiotics are one of the many possible approaches for treating or at least  reducing the detrimental effects of dysbiosis after spinal cord injury.

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