New Research Links Brachyspira to IBS-D

New research out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden might have found a new lead on the possible link between bacteria and IBS: a tiny, twisty troublemaker called Brachyspira.1,2

Brachyspira is a spiral-shaped bacterium that is found in the bowels and is known to cause diarrhea in a range of animals. Only now has it been identified in humans and potentially linked to IBS-D, the type of irritable bowel syndrome that causes diarrhea. Brachyspira can survive in environments with no air, which is one reason why it has been so difficult to detect and what makes this new study so significant.1-3

Hiding in the gut

Researchers have long puzzled over the connection between bacterial infections and IBS. However, they do know that a person’s risk of developing IBS increases after experiencing gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines, usually due to bacteria). For that reason, fecal analysis has long been used both at small-town doctor’s offices and in IBS research labs around the world. Bacteria such as C. difficile and giardia are longtime suspects in causing IBS, but these relationships have been hard to prove.1

The study out of Sweden took it a step further by looking at intestinal biopsies – small samples of the intestinal wall, taken from volunteers with and without IBS. The Brachyspira bacteria were found in the intestine’s mucous layer, which protects the intestine from fecal bacteria. This meant that the Brachyspira was in direct contact with the intestine and was likely a culprit for causing IBS-D symptoms in these volunteers.1,2

Brachyspira was found in a third of the samples taken from people with IBS. In particular, these people were more likely to have IBS-D. Brachyspira bacteria were found in none of the samples taken from people who did not have IBS.1,2

What is next for Brachyspira research?

If more studies confirm this connection, you may start to see Brachyspira stool tests in the future. Tests that screen for a specific bacteria can help diagnose IBS earlier, getting people the treatments and lifestyle guidance they need to help curb painful symptoms and get their lives back on track.

The next step for IBS researchers will be finding treatments that can target this twisty bacterium. The researchers in this study suggest that short-term laxatives, prebiotics, or probiotics may be worth exploring in people who test positive for Brachyspira. Because it hides in the mucous layer, traditional antibiotics have not been effective. In fact, researchers think antibiotic treatment may be what drove Brachyspira into its hiding place.1,2

The researchers also acknowledge that antibiotic treatments themselves can cause symptom flares in people with IBS. There is also some general thought that antibiotic use can cause IBS itself.1

In terms of Brachyspira, this study may represent a big leap in IBS research. Knowing exactly which bacteria may be responsible for IBS symptoms – and learning more about the bacterium itself – can help researchers get even closer to developing targeted treatments that could one day address IBS in all of its forms.1,2

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