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updated 1/31/2011 4:08:13 PM ET 2011-01-31T21:08:13

The live bacterial cultures in your yogurt could combat inflammatory bowel disease, a new animal study suggests.

A genetically altered version of the common bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus nearly eliminated colon inflammation in mice by calming overactive immune cells in the gut, said study researcher Mansour Mohamadzadeh, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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Inflammatory bowel diseases are caused by too much inflammation, and the study shows this "inflammation can be rebalanced with naturally occurring bacteria," Mohamadzadeh told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Probiotics are common in fermented foods with added live cultures of bacteria, such as yogurt, cheese and other dairy products, Mohamadzadeh said.

Inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, affects more than 1 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The condition is chronic and can lead to weight loss, gastrointestinal bleeding and diarrhea.

Mohamadzadeh and his colleagues gave a genetically modified form of L. acidophilus to mice with colitis for 13 days. At the end of the study, the progression of colon disease in the mice was halted by 95 percent.

Inflammatory bowel disease occurs when the body's immune system cells attack the intestine. Bacteria may rally messenger immune cells to calm the overactive immune cells and restore balance in the gut, Mohamadzadeh said.

The genetically modified bacteria that Mohamadzadeh gave to the mice were missing a gene called phosphoglycerol esterase, which  normally induces inflammation in gut cells, he said.

Past studies have suggested that probiotics can play a role in effectively treating inflammatory bowel diseases. A 2009 study in the journal American Journal of Physiology – Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology showed that the bacteria Bacillus polyfermenticus helped mice recover from colitis.

And a 2010 review in the Journal of Medical Microbiology suggested live active cultures could be the best treatment option for inflammatory bowel diseases, because they both reduce inflammation and bolster the immune defenses in the gut.

Mohamadzadeh and his colleagues have been researching the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease with probiotics for the last 10 years. Now, they are working to make sure the genetically altered version of L. acidophilus is safe to test in people, he said. They are also investigating use of L. acidophilus for the treatment of colon cancer.

The new study was published today (Jan. 31) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pass it on: Live active cultures in yogurt could be used for future treatments for inflammatory bowel disease.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Amanda Chan on Twitter @ AmandaLChan.

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