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Heavy metals are highly toxic elements that contaminate the global food supply and affect human and wildlife health. Purification technologies are often too expensive or not practically applicable for large-scale implementation, especially in impoverished nations where heavy metal contamination is widespread. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 (LGR-1) was shown in previous work to reduce heavy metal bioaccumulation in a Tanzanian cohort of women and children through indeterminant mechanisms. Here, it was hypothesized that LGR-1 could sequester the heavy metals lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd), thereby reducing their absorption across intestinal epithelium. LGR-1 and other lactobacilli significantly reduced the amount of Pb and Cd in solution at all concentrations tested (0.5 mg/L - 50 mg/L) and exhibited sustained binding profiles over a 48-hour period. Relative binding efficiency of LGR-1 decreased as Pb concentration increased, with an absolute minimum binding threshold apparent at concentrations of 2 mg/L and above. Electron microscopy revealed that Pb formed irregular cell-surface clusters on LGR-1, while Cd appeared to form intracellular polymeric clusters. Additionally, LGR-1 was able to significantly reduce apical-to-basolateral translocation of Pb and Cd in a Caco-2 model of the intestinal epithelium. These findings demonstrate the absorbent properties of LGR-1 can immobilize Pb and Cd, effectively reducing their translocation across the intestinal epithelium in vitro. Oral administration of heavy metal-binding Lactobacillus spp. (many of which are known human symbionts and strains of established probiotics) may offer a simple and effective means to reduce the amount of heavy metals absorbed from foods in contaminated regions of the world.

Keywords: Probiotics; cadmium; detoxification; dietary toxins; environmental contaminants; heavy metals; lactobacilli; lead; sequestration; xenobiotics.

Research Insights

SupplementHealth OutcomeEffect TypeEffect Size
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1Improved Heavy Metal SequestrationBeneficial
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1Reduced Heavy Metal AccumulationBeneficial

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