The liver is our largest internal organ and performs more than 500 functions to keep us alive and well, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from subjecting it to regular abuse.
Beer, late night pizza, and that morning-after Tylenol all wreak havoc on this vital organ. But new research offers up a possible weapon against damage: probiotics.
You’ve probably heard about the link between probiotics and digestive health, but researchers from Emory University were inspired by studies indicating that a good gut can improve your heart and brain health, too. Curious as to whether probiotics could help another of our most important organs, they decided to test whether a common probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, or LGG, could protect the liver against damage.
The study was conducted in mice, who were either given a diet laced with LGG or regular food. After two weeks, the critters ingested high doses of acetaminophen, an ingredient found in Tylenol that could cause liver damage and even death when taken incorrectly. (Although it works to get rid of aches and fevers, large doses increase the amount of free radicals, a damaging form of oxygen, in our bodies.)
Study co-author Bejan Saeedi, doctoral candidate at Emory University, believes the probiotics increased the amount of Nrf2 protein in their bodies, which regulates antioxidants. Antioxidants are known for neutralizing free radicals.
“Administration of the probiotic LGG to mice improves the antioxidant response of the liver, protecting it from oxidative damage produced by drugs such as acetaminophen,” Saeedi said in a statement. MensHealth.com reached out to the researchers for more information, and we will update this story if and when we hear back.
Saeedi doesn’t believe it’s time to blow your paycheck on probiotics just yet. Studies showing the protective benefits in human volunteers still need to be conducted to indicate that LGG could help us, too. (For now, here are 6 signs your liver might be in trouble.)
Other studies, also in animals, have offered clues that probiotics could be good for more than keeping you regular. Here are some of the ways probiotics can benefit your entire body, from helping you lose weight to clearing up your skin.