The intestinal barrier is important in preventing translocation of bacteria, toxins and antigens from the lumen of the gut into the body. Enhanced permeability, or gut leakiness, has been associated with different diseases. Probiotics can, strain-specifically, improve the epithelial barrier function. However, so far most researches have used cell lines or animal models due to the difficulty of measuring the effects of products on the epithelial barrier function invivo in humans. Here a systematic literature search was performed to find articles addressing the effects of probiotics on the barrier function in human trials. The Pubmed database was searched (January 2013) to identify human invivo studies with probiotic products in which parameters for epithelial barrier function were measured. In total 29 studies were identified, but patients, bacterial characteristics and methods to measure intestinal barrier function caused large heterogeneity among these studies. About half of the studies showed positive results of probiotics on the epithelial barrier function, indicating a clear potential of probiotics in this field. In a case series of 14 patients using Ecologica825, a probiotic food supplement with known effect on epithelial barrier function, different markers of intestinal integrity improved significantly. Further studies in this field should consider strain(s), dose and duration of the probiotic supplementation as well as the markers used to measure epithelial barrier function. Besides the lactulose/mannitol test, zonulin and α1-antitrypsin might be valuable markers to measure epithelial barrier function in future experiments.
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