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How Probiotics Relieve Damaged Livers, Liver Disease, & Cirrhosis

8 minute read


Studies have shown that changes in your gut flora can promote complications associated with liver cirrhosis, like bone disease and renal failure. Probiotics, which promote healthy gut flora, have been suggested as a way to help treat chronic liver damage.

They can also give your immune system a boost. Many treatments focus on the complications associated with cirrhosis, which includes you being more susceptible to infection. It’s a good idea to give your immune system whatever help you can.

Your liver has got a big job to do. Or rather, it has several important jobs. To understand how probiotics can affect cirrhosis, it’s worth detailing the various factors involved.

Your Liver and What It Does

Most of us are aware that the liver processes alcohol, but it also has other key duties that you might not know about.

| Related: Increasing Evidence on Liver Benefits of Probiotics |

In fact, it has more than 500 vital functions and is so important that it can hold up to a pint of the body’s blood at any given time. That’s about 13 percent of your body’s blood in a single, albeit large, organ.

A few of the liver’s functions include:

♦ Filtering blood from the digestive tract

♦ Creating bile, which plays an important role in digestion

♦ Detoxifying the body of drugs, medications, alcohol, and other poisonous substances

♦ Regulating blood clotting

Basically, we cannot survive for long without a functioning liver. Luckily, lifestyle and diet factors can help protect your liver from damage.

What Is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when there is an excess of scar tissue in the liver that affects its ability to function properly.

| Related: How Probiotics Improve Immunity |

Like any other part of your body, when your liver is damaged, it repairs itself and can form scar tissue.

This damage can be caused by a number of things, but the most common causes are chronic alcohol abuse, chronic viral hepatitis B and C, and fat accumulating in the liver, which is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.

Unfortunately, cirrhosis doesn’t usually present symptoms until the damage is quite far along. The symptoms of cirrhosis, when they appear, include:

♦ Low energy or fatigue

♦ Itchy skin

♦ Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

♦ Loss of appetite

♦ Swelling of the legs and ankles

♦ Cognitive issues, such as slurring and confusion

♦ And more

Cirrhosis can also lead to problems like high blood pressure, malnutrition, a buildup of toxins in the brain (hepatic encephalopathy), increased risk of liver cancer, and liver failure.

Cirrhosis and Hepatic Encephalopathy

A recent study was done to test the effectiveness of probiotics as a way to prevent hepatic encephalopathy, the buildup of toxins in the brain due to liver dysfunction. This condition can result in confusion, changes in behavior, slurring, and motor function.

Up to 45 percent of people who suffer from cirrhosis develop hepatic encephalopathy, and the outlook is not good. The mortality rate is 58 percent within one year and 77 percent at three years.

But there is hope. Researchers continue to look for ways to treat cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy, and probiotics may be a way to slow its progression.

The study’s participants were cirrhosis patients who showed risk factors for hepatic encephalopathy but hadn’t yet experienced an obvious episode. The probiotic group showed fewer incidents than the placebo group.

Dr. David W. Victor III, a practicing hepatologist, commented that the results of the study  offer a safe, well-tolerated and perhaps cheaper alternative to current treatments.”

Probiotics, Your Gut, and Your Liver

Your body plays host to trillions of friendly bacteria that help with digestion, immune function, and inflammation, just to name a few of the benefits of this relationship.

The majority of the bacteria that live in your body reside in your intestines. The gut and liver are linked by functions like the liver’s bile secretion that helps with digestion and blood from the gut traveling to the liver.

| Related: Probiotics Benefits: A Decade of Research |

This link means that the health of your gut can affect the health of your liver.

Probiotics and A Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of preventing liver damage. In cases of cirrhosis caused by NAFLD, losing weight may help people become healthier.  

Probiotics, especially the strain Lactobacillus gasseri, can help to reduce excess body fat, which can hurt your liver and make cirrhosis worse.

Other strains in the Lactobacillus family have also been found to promote weight loss in overweight dieters, like Lactobacillus fermentum, L. amylovorus, and L. rhamnosus.

| Related: Controlling Potential Probiotics Side Effects |

Eating a healthy diet is key if you’re trying to lose body fat and keep your liver healthy, and probiotics can help you reach both goals in multiple ways.

Where to Get Probiotics

If you’ve consulted your doctor and are now looking for probiotics as a supplemental treatment for cirrhosis, you have several options.

Probiotics are found in fermented and cultured foods, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

They’re also packaged as supplements in powder, capsule, and liquid form.

With so many different kinds of probiotics on the market, it’s important to know what you’re looking for.

Talk to your doctor and do some research to find out which strains have been shown to be the most effective for the issue that you want to treat, such as liver health, immune health, weight loss, etc. Your goals may be different based on the level of liver damage that you have.

The Bottom Line

Probiotics help keep the bacteria in our guts healthy and active. This affects our health in a variety of ways and can help treat or prevent cirrhosis of the liver from multiple angles.

In short, they help support your body’s healthy functioning, which in turn supports your liver and aids in the prevention of liver damage and the development of cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis also causes a variety of problems, which isn’t surprising due to the many essential functions that your liver is responsible for. Healthy gut flora can help alleviate some of these complications and make cirrhosis easier to manage.

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