A new Bacterium on the Block: How Brachyspira may be a factor for IBS

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This resource was made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from IBgard®.

A new bacterium on the block: How Brachyspira may be a factor for IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that the scientific community has been working to learn more about for an extremely long time with new discoveries continually being made. As each new piece of information gathered, we get one step closer to being able to live symptom-free!

What’s new in the medical community?

Recently, German researchers at the University of Gothenburg stumbled across a strange type of bacteria in the intestines – bacteria not typically found in the gut. It’s called Brachyspira, and a recent study has uncovered a correlation between people with IBS (especially those with diarrhea as a symptom) and the presence of this bacteria. 1

This bacterium is fairly clever, as it hides under the layer of mucous that protects the surface of the intestine from fecal bacteria. Essentially, it tucks away and protects itself. As a result of this, researchers found that the usual method of studying gut flora (analyzing fecal samples – yes, poop) was insufficient since the samples couldn’t detect any Brachyspira. Instead, they had to dig a little deeper, using intestinal biopsies to analyze bacterial proteins.

A brief glimpse at IBS

If we take a look at IBS on a broader scale, 5-10% of adults exhibit symptoms consistent with the disorder, the most common symptoms being abdominal pain or discomfort. Additionally, a large number of people also experience diarrhea, with alternating bouts of constipation (Jabbar, 2020).

IBS is a functional gut disorder. We know the intestines do not work the way they should. This also means there are no visible indicators (sores or polyps along the intestinal wall) like you would see in other digestive diseases. With IBS, individuals are left to be diagnosed based on their symptoms and not much more.

The study from the University of Gothenburg was based on tissue samples taken from patients who suffered from IBS, in addition to healthy volunteers who were used as controls in the study. Nearly a third of all patients with IBS were found to have Brachyspira in their gut. While this may not seem like a massive percentage at a glance, the most important thing learned was that not a single healthy volunteer (those not living with IBS) had any Brachyspira present.

What are the treatment options?

Since Brachyspira is a pathogenic bacterium, treatment with antibiotics seems like an obvious solution. However, a pilot study attempting to treat IBS patients with Brachyspira using antibiotics was unsuccessful. This should come as no surprise – remember earlier we said that Brachyspira is a sneaky bacterium? As it turns out, Brachyspira doesn’t simply hide under the intestinal mucous layer, but investigations found that the bacteria in fact takes refuge inside intestinal goblet cells (cells that secrete mucous and protects the intestinal wall). As a result, any treatment that fails to permeate this layer won’t work!

However, if more extensive studies can confirm the association between Brachyspira and IBS symptoms, other antibiotics and probiotics may become possible treatments in the future.  Since the study shows that patients with this bacterium have gut inflammation resembling an allergic reaction, allergy medications, or dietary changes may also be other potential treatment options. The researchers at the University of Gothenburg plan to investigate this in further studies, and we will definitely update you!


References

Jabbar, K., Dolan, B., Eklund, L., Wising, C., Ermund, A., Johansson, Å., Törnblom, H., Simren, M., & Hansson., G. 2020. Association between Brachyspira and irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhoea. https://gut.bmj.com/content/70/6/1117