A team of researchers at the University of British Columbia has begun to answer one of the most pressing questions in the study of human immunity by analyzing a probiotic cure for bad breath.
“How come we are absolutely full of bacteria, but somehow we manage to recognize bad bugs, kill them, and prevent them from infecting us?” asked Professor Robert Hancock, director of the Centre for Microbial Diseases and Immunity Research.
In search of the answer, Hancock’s team launched a two-year study on a probiotic called BLIS K-12, which is used in lozenges to treat bad breath.
Probiotics are live micro-organisms containing potentially beneficial bacteria or yeasts. Common uses of different probiotics include managing lactose intolerance, calming upset stomachs, treating irritable bowel syndrome, and preventing bad breath.
The team chose to study BLIS K-12 because it has been used extensively on human subjects in health food studies and is widely available online for consumer use.
Their findings challenged the conventional belief about how probiotics provide immunity.
“It was thought that if a good bug binds to your tissues, the bad bugs can’t bind. That was the simple idea of probiotics,” said Hancock. “It was basically . . .competition.”
Bad bacteria contain surface molecules that cause inflammation, which is the cause of pain and discomfort.
The study revealed BLIS’s effectiveness was based on more than simple competition.
BLIS actually produces aggressive peptides, which Hancock describes as “killing agents.” Moreover, although it shares some of the same disruptive molecules as bad bacteria, it can also suppress inflammation. Basically, its innate inflammatory molecules are neutralized, and this allows BLIS to fight bad bacteria without causing harm.
Hancock calls this process immune modulation. It explains, in part, why bacteria can be used to treat pathogenic bacteria and avoid causing inflammation and pain – what Hancock called “tipping the apple cart.”
The implications of this discovery reach far beyond bad breath.
“It provides a scientific basis for the use of probiotics for treating painful conditions,” said Hancock. “Having said that, this has to be studied for the specific probiotic people utilize.”
It also provides clarification for consumers considering using BLIS K–12.
Frutarom USA, the sole distributor of BLIS K–12, has taken the opportunity to share this new data with existing and potential consumers through a press release.
Hancock noted that the research was not funded by Frutarom or done as part of a commercial project. Rather, it was an academic collaboration with researchers at the University of Leeds and the University of Otago.
“We weren’t interested, to tell the truth, in whether [BLIS K–12] works against bad breath,” said Hancock. “We were interested in the question of why this bacteria can be introduced in mass quantities without tipping the apple cart.”