The Oral Microbiome and…Cancer risk?!

There was an interesting article[i] on Live Science last week, about the link between the kinds of bacteria in your mouth and your risk of certain cancers, as presented by a an New York University researcher, Jiyoung Ahn, at a talk she gave on April 2nd to the American Association for Cancer Research.

According to Dr. Ahn, the ability to use DNA sequencing to truly discern the bacteria of the human biome only came about in the last 5 years.  This ability has led scientists to be able to make links they never could have in the past.

Ahn’s research has shown that people with higher levels of the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis have a 60% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer!  Another kind of bacteria, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans was linked to more than double the risk.  Astounding!

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest there is.  Can you imagine being able to recognize this risk early on, and use biome restoration to avert development?  How many lives might be saved?

Apparently, there are also differences in the oral microbiomes of people who go on to develop esophageal cancer.  Those who develop it have lower levels of Proteobacteria.

What has yet to be determined is cause and effect.  That is, are these differences the cause of the cancer?  Or, are both the microbiome changes and the cancer the result of some other factor?  For example, smoking and alcohol can change the oral microbiome and both are risk factors for both esophageal and pancreatic cancers. Smokers have lower levels of Proteobacteria in their mouths and people who drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day have lower levels of good bacteria, like Lactobacillus.

Can oral probiotics or fermented foods make a difference in the oral microbiome?  Can we make a probiotic mouthwash or how about toothpaste?!  We know that the presence of helminths positively affects the microbiome up through the esophagus (more on this in this blog post) but how about into the mouth?  What about prebiotics?  I really look forward to reading more about this subject in the future.



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