Could Probiotics Help Severe Burn Victims?

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A simple, natural supplement could give hope to serious burn victims. A recent study out of Israel showed that probiotics could help prevent a potentially lethal side effect of burns.

Say a person is burned severely in a fire. Not only do they suffer horrible skin damage and a lot of pain, but they’re also at risk for sepsis. Sepsis is a serious condition that’s usually brought on by the presence of an infection in the body. But it can also be triggered by a bad burn. You probably know that your gastrointestinal tract is chock-full of bacteria. Well, when a person has a burn injury, a lot of these bacteria start moving out of the gut. This is what starts the extreme immune response that causes sepsis. The results of this secondary condition are inflammation throughout the body, fever, high white blood cell count, and increased heart and breathing rates. This state of things can lead to organ malfunction and even death.

Of course, medical scientists are looking for ways to help burn victims avoid sepsis. So, this study aimed to see if probiotic supplements could be of help. Probiotics are dietary supplements containing live bacteria. These are the kind normally found in huge numbers in your gastrointestinal system. In your body, there are hundreds of different species. Each plays a key role in digestion and immune function. Many people supplement with probiotics or eat probiotic foods (e.g., specific kinds of yogurt) to help keep their digestive systems healthy. Other proponents of probiotics claim that they can help boost the immune system, fight infection, and relieve different bowel problems.

But can they prevent or help treat sepsis? The research team did a study on 56 burn victims at a medical center in Israel. All of the study participants had burns on up to 70% of their bodies. Half of the patients were given probiotics. Most took capsules containing the “Lactobacillus acidophilus” bacteria. But three individuals were given yogurt containing “Lactobacillus casei.” The other half of the patients received no supplementation at all. The researchers then followed the burn patients’ progress. They were especially interested in the occurrence of sepsis and the severity of complications.

The researchers found that the probiotic supplements did not have a significant effect overall. However, in one specific group of patients, it was seen to be very beneficial. Of the people who had burns covering 41%–70% of their body, none of those taking probiotics died. Conversely, five people in this subgroup not taking the supplements did pass away from sepsis complications. So this means that probiotics could be a lifesaver in the more severe burn cases. These findings are promising, but more good-quality studies are needed before probiotics become a mainstay in your local hospital’s emergency ward.