Protecting probiotics from the stomach

September 26, 2018, American Chemical Society
Credit: American Chemical Society

The small intestine is a hotbed of microbial activity and a target of probiotic treatments for diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, among other conditions. To make it to the intestine, though, probiotics must first pass through the stomach, a hostile acidic environment that can kill these beneficial bacteria. Now, scientists report in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering the development of a protective gel sphere that may offer probiotics a safer route.

Probiotics are living organisms and have beneficial effects when they colonize the body, assuming they can stay alive long enough to do so. Probiotic treatments are packed with bacteria, but once swallowed, their numbers are dramatically diminished by the stomach's acidity, lowering the chances of therapeutic effect. In previous work, scientists have attempted to protect probiotics in the stomach by encapsulating them in alginate, a gummy polymer produced by algae, like fruit trapped in a gelatin mold. Alginate isn't the ideal treatment ingredient though, because it can breakdown easily. To beef up the stability of alginate, Hu Tang, Fenghong Huang and colleagues wanted to see whether adding cellulose, a fibrous biocompatible polymer with excellent stability, could help.

To make the shield, the researchers mixed dilute solutions of cellulose and alginate, then added the "friendly" bacteria to that mixture. The final step was to drip this brew into a solution of calcium chloride. The researchers dropped the probiotic globs into an acidic stomach-like environment and found that the gel held onto the bacteria. By contrast, in a simulated intestine, which has a more neutral pH, the bacteria gel swelled, releasing the probiotics. They say that the next step is to test the encapsulation system in animals.

Explore further: New polymer research could boost probiotics industry

More information: Hao Zhang et al, A pH-Responsive Gel Macrosphere Based on Sodium Alginate and Cellulose Nanofiber for Potential Intestinal Delivery of Probiotics, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b02237

Related Stories

New polymer research could boost probiotics industry

September 6, 2011

A protective delivery vehicle that shuttles friendly bacteria safely through the stomach to the intestines could provide a major boost for the probiotics industry. The new technology could also be used for the delivery of ...

Should healthy people take probiotic supplements?

June 18, 2018

A visit to the supermarket these days can feel more like walking through a pharmacy, with an ever-expanding range of milks, yoghurts, pills, powders and speciality foods promoting their "probiotic" prowess.

Probiotic without effect against Salmonella

April 19, 2010

Many tourists travelling abroad go down with diarrhoea, which can be caused by Salmonella. While probiotics are often cited as the solution to various stomach problems, the probiotic, Lactobacillus plantarum has no effect ...

Recommended for you

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.