There have been a few amazing articles on the biome and health in the last few days.
A new study[i] just came out of Canada on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They were looking to see whether or not the gut bacteria from humans with IBS “carry” the disease. That is, if you take the gut bacteria from someone with IBS and implant it into another living animal, will that induce the disease? Since ethically you can’t purposely make a human sicker in a study, the researchers used germ-free mice. They found that yes, aspects of IBS did transfer, including gastrointestinal transit time (how long it takes for food to move from the stomach through the intestines), intestinal barrier dysfunction (that is, the health of the lining of the intestines), low grade inflammation and anxiety-like behavior. The researchers emphasize that not only does the intestinal bacteria influence physical symptoms, but mental ones as well. Thus, their study “…adds to evidence suggesting that the intestinal microbiota may play some role in the spectrum of brain disorders ranging from mood or anxiety to other problems that may include autism, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”
Funny they should mention Parkinson’s. You will remember I wrote about the gut biome and Parkinson’s back in December. There’s now another new study[ii] out of the University of Alabama, showing that Parkinson’s, and medications used to treat it, seem to have distinct effects on the bacterial microbiome. The researchers acknowledge that they don’t know which comes first: that is, does the disease alter the gut bacteria or does the gut bacteria lead to the disease? However, what is known is that the first symptoms of Parkinson’s are often gastrointestinal, and considering other research in this area, and the pretty-much-daily growing list of diseases associated with biome alterations, my guess is the latter.
A good article[iii] appeared this week in The Atlantic, summarizing some really interesting work on the gut-brain axis. “Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage [the microbiome]…could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.” I particularly liked one of the studies cited, in which one group of people ate yogurt twice a day – the rest did not. All the participants were then given brain scans while viewing a series of images of facial expressions. The researchers were surprised to learn that those who ate yogurt responded more calmly to the images. One of the researchers is quoted saying, ““The contrast was clear…This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.”
Just as I was about to post this, I came across yet another article[iv] on this very topic. (I’m telling you – new information comes out daily at this point! My blog and I are the ultimate in trending.) Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine reversed depression in a mouse model, using Lactobacillus probiotics. “The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side-effects when we can just play with the microbiome…It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health – and your mood.”[v]
None of this comes as a surprise to me. After all, I have witnessed with my own eyes, many times, what improving and enriching the biome can do!
[i] “Transplantation of fecal microbiota from patients with irritable bowel syndrome alters gut function and behavior in recipient mice,” Science Translational Medicine, stm.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf6397
[ii] Erin M. Hill-Burns, Justine W. Debelius, James T. Morton, William T. Wissemann, Matthew R. Lewis, Zachary D. Wallen, Shyamal D. Peddada, Stewart A. Factor, Eric Molho, Cyrus P. Zabetian, Rob Knight, Haydeh Payami. Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s disease medications have distinct signatures of the gut microbiome. Movement Disorders, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/mds.26942