Probiotics and immunity
Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host, including the gastrointestinal tract. While this beneficial effect was originally thought to stem from improvements in the intestinal microbial balance, there is now substantial evidence that probiotics can also provide benefits by modulating immune functions. In animal models, probiotic supplementation is able to provide protection from spontaneous and chemically induced colitis by downregulating inflammatory cytokines or inducing regulatory mechanisms in a strain-specific manner. In animal models of allergen sensitization and murine models of asthma and allergic rhinitis, orally administered probiotics can strain-dependently decrease allergen-specific IgE production, in part by modulating systemic cytokine production. Certain probiotics have been shown to decrease airway hyperresponsiveness and inflammation by inducing regulatory mechanisms. Promising results have been obtained with probiotics in the treatment of human inflammatory diseases of the intestine and in the prevention and treatment of atopic eczema in neonates and infants. However, the findings are too variable to allow firm conclusions as to the effectiveness of specific probiotics in these conditions.