Two new pieces of research came out this week which I need to share.
The first I found particularly fascinating. We know that there is a bi-directional interaction between the central nervous system and the bacterial microbiome, but HOW nerves direct bacteria was unknown. Researchers at Kiel University, in German, using the freshwater polyp Hydra (which has a simple nervous system of only 3000 neurons) demonstrated that nerve cells release small molecules (called neuropeptides) which “…regulate the composition and colonization of specific types of beneficial bacteria…” [i] Amazingly, these neuropeptides have antibacterial activity! As the polyp’s nervous system developed (from egg to adult), the bacterial communities covering the animal changed radically until, in adulthood, it became stable. Not only did the neuropeptides released by the developing nervous system direct the kinds of bacteria in the biome, but also the spatial localization of the bacteria. Near the head of the animal, there was a strong concentration of antimicrobial peptides so that 6x fewer bacteria inhabited that region than on the animals’ tentacles.
Immediately, of course, I thought about “mental” illnesses like PTSD, extreme stress and anxiety, where we know that the mental trauma leads to bacterial changes in the gut. A week ago or so, research came out showing how women with a history of PTSD have a greatly increased risk of developing lupus, for example.[ii] And lupus is associated with alterations in the bacterial microbiome.
How amazing though that the nervous system actually produces antibiotic molecules?!
A second article [iii]appeared this week which was very depressing but completely predictable. Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, used a new analytical approach to look at how c-sections and formula feeding alter the infant’s developing microbiome. They quantified the changes to gut bacteria in 166 infants throughout the first year of their lives and found that, “…compared to the normal progression of gut bacteria with infant age, formula-fed or cesarean-delivered infants showed altered trajectories of colonization among the bacterial families that have been linked to food allergies, as well as rapid weight gain.”
Says one of the researchers, “We hope this research will help clinicians and parents understand that cesarean section increases the chance of antibiotic treatment or formula-feeding of newborns, which can affect the development of gut microbiota in later infancy…”
Yeah…I know that now. I only wish I’d known it 23 years ago, when my son, Alex, was born.