Research into probiotics & Cystic Fibrosis

Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

A new study1 in the Iranian Journal of Paediatrics, reveals that taking probiotic supplements can improve the quality of life of patients with cystic fibrosis (CS). CS is a disorder that affects the transport of sodium and chloride across cell membranes, leading to excessive amounts of thick, viscous secretions in both the lungs and digestive tract.

Clinical trial methodology

During the trial, 37 cystic fibrosis sufferers between the ages of 2 and 12 years were given either probiotic supplements or a placebo for a period of one month. Their quality of life was then assessed at various intervals using the PedsQL 4.0 questionnaire.

Analysis of the questionnaire findings showed that overall quality of life for those participants taking the probiotics was improved at 3 months, (two months after cessation of supplementation) however these benefits had receded by six months. One of the measurements used to gauge quality of life was the rate of pulmonary exacerbation, (a temporary worsening of lung function due to infection or inflammation). This rate was reduced significantly in the group that were taking the probiotics.

Complications of the disorder

Cystic fibrosis sufferers often require frequent courses of antibiotic medication for chest infections that are exacerbated by the sticky mucous clogging their lungs and causing inflammation.

assortment of antibiotics

Cystic Fibrosis sufferers often require frequent courses of antibiotic medication

Each course of antibiotics depletes levels of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which has many implications for our general health and wellbeing. A lack of ‘good’ bacteria can reduce our ability to digest food and absorb vital nutrients. It can also lead to lowered immune function, and increased susceptibility to infections.

Cystic fibrosis sufferers often have reduced digestive function, due to thickened digestive secretions. Both pancreatic secretions and bile can become more viscous than they should be, and this disrupts their flow through both the pancreatic duct and the bile duct. Pancreatic inflammation and scarring to the liver can occur as a result, but also the patients ability to digest food is severely restricted.

Why probiotics?

Due to the fact that probiotic bacteria secrete digestive enzymes they can be very helpful in improving our digestive capacity, and absorption of nutrients. For this reason, plus their immune boosting properties, I can only hypothesise that supplementation with probiotics would be (as the trial suggests) advantageous in the ongoing support of cystic fibrosis sufferers.


  1. Jafari, S. A., Mehdizadeh-Hakkak, A., Kianifar, H. R., Hebrani, P., Ahanchian, H., & Abbasnejad, E. (2013). Effects of probiotics on quality of life in children with cystic fibrosis; a randomized controlled trial. Iranian journal of pediatrics, 23(6): 669–674.