Background: Although 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) oral compounds are the standard maintenance treatment for ulcerative colitis in remission, some patients cannot use them because of side-effects. Clinical and experimental observations have suggested the potential role of probiotics in inflammatory bowel disease therapy.
Aim: To evaluate the effects on intestinal microflora and the clinical efficacy of a new probiotic preparation in patients with ulcerative colitis in remission.
Patients and methods: Twenty patients with ulcerative colitis, intolerant or allergic to 5-ASA, have been treated with a new probiotic preparation (VSL#3, CSL, Milan, Italy) containing 5x10(11) cells/g of 3 strains of bifidobacteria, 4 strains of lactobacilli and 1 strain of Streptococcus salivarius ssp. thermophilus. Two doses of 3 g were administered o.d. for 12 months. Faecal samples for stool culture were obtained from the patients at the beginning of the trial and after 10, 20, 40, 60, 75, 90 days, 12 months and at 15 days after the end of the treatment. The following bacterial groups have been evaluated in the faeces: total aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, enterococci, Streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, Bacteroides, clostridia, coliforms. Patients were assessed clinically every two months, and assessed endoscopically at 6 and 12 months or in relapse.
Results: Faecal concentrations of Streptococcus salivarius ssp. thermophilus, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria increased significantly in all patients, compared to their basal level, from the 20th day of treatment (P<0.05) and remained stable throughout the study. Concentrations of Bacteroides, clostridia, coliforms, total aerobic and anaerobic bacteria did not change significantly during treatment (P = N.S.). Fifteen of 20 treated patients remained in remission during the study, one patient was lost to follow up, while the remaining relapsed. No significant side-effects have been reported.
Conclusions: These results show that this probiotic preparation is able to colonize the intestine, and suggest that it may be useful in maintaining the remission in ulcerative colitis patients intolerant or allergic to 5-ASA. Controlled trials are warranted to confirm these preliminary results.