Treatment with the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus, a beneficial type of microbe, produces changes in the intestinal tract that help reduce abdominal pain related to irritable bowel syndrome, findings from an animal study suggest. In fact, the effect of the treatment in reducing pain is on par with that of morphine.

Probiotics help regularize the population of microbes normally found in the intestines. “Modulation of intestinal flora may be a promising, safe and relatively inexpensive new treatment for abdominal pain, a prominent symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, which affects 20% of the general population,” Dr. Pierre Desreumaux, from INSERM in Lille, France, and colleagues note in the research journal Nature Medicine.

Using lab rats with induced abdominal pain, the researchers found that oral administration of Lactobacillus strains led to an increase in the number of receptors for naturally produced pain-killing substances on cells lining the intestine. The result was an analgesic effect similar to that of morphine. The findings suggest that intestinal microbiology influences the perception of visceral pain, the researchers conclude.

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