Hello readers! Just last month an interesting paper was published on links between the composition of bacteria in the guts of alcoholics seeking treatment, and psychological or physiological symptoms that are associated with relapse. The paper is by Leclercq et al. and comes from a variety of European labs, and is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (find it here).
Essentially, the authors found that some, but not all, alcohol-dependent subjects developed gut leakiness, which was associated with higher scores of depression, anxiety, and alcohol cravings after a short period (three weeks) of abstinence in a treatment program. These may be important indicators of the potential for relapse. Subjects with gut leakiness had an altered composition of the gut bacterial community, and the bacteria were differently active (this was measured by studying the metabolic compounds that were present in feces).
What does this mean? It means that in some people, changes in gut bacterial community composition (dysbiosis) can lead to physical and psychological changes that affect mood, and possibly behavior. In this particular study, dysbiosis in the guts of some alcoholics resulted in effects that might make it more difficult for them to stay away from alcohol.
It may be possible in future to help people with substance abuse problems manage these problems with changes in diet and exercise! In fact, there’s no reason why a person can’t try to help manage these problems now by eating a healthy diet, getting regular sleep, and getting regular exercise. Probiotics may, in future, assist with problems like these but at the moment no products have been tested for helping with behavioral problems like alcohol abuse.
A while ago, I came across this interesting and very important review in Cell (a very reputable journal), on how gut microbes (part of your microbiome) can affect the aging process. Ten years ago people would have thought this was impossible!
The review, published in January 2014, is by Caroline Heintz and William Mair, both from Harvard. The article can be found here: “You are what you host: microbiome modulation of the aging process.“. To summarize, the microbes living in symbiosis with invertebrates, and possibly other animals (mostly in the gut, but also in other places, like the mouth or on the skin), can affect the rate at which aging occurs. This could occur by the microbial production of compounds that affect the expression of genes, or possibly by the microbes metabolizing compounds into products that have direct effects on host physiology. There is also evidence to suggest that different microbial species may have different effects. It makes sense if you think of how long digestive systems have existed in symbiosis with microbes- maybe we and they have co-evolved.
Most of the work cited in this review has been done with invertebrates, particularly nematodes, which have been intensively studied for many years as model organisms. How exciting if the results from these studies are supported by work done with mammals! Until we know more about how microbes interact with mammals, the best thing you can do is try to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, get regular sleep (disrupting circadian rhythms can lead to changes in your gut microfloral composition and changes in your body, like a tendency to gain weight), and get regular exercise (in addition to health benefits, most cardio exercise helps your gut move food along by peristalsis- there’s a reason why for many years people would take walks after meals to help with digestion!). If you want to take a probiotic, I can’t recommend a specific product, but you may be able to find more information at sites like probiotics.org.
Have a great day!
I just came across this fascinating study today on how adding a particular bacterium (a species of Clostridium) back into the gut microflora of mice rescued the mice from a nut allergy.
Here’s the article summarized from the Science website.
And here is a link to the original article.
Speaking purely anecdotally, my own troubles with negative reactions to food (gluten and dairy proteins) started after a period of time where I was taking a lot of antibiotics. Of course, this may be coincidence, but it would be really interesting to me to find out if there are “healthy” bacteria that are missing from my own gut microbial community. Ideally I could go back in time and sample myself from before I took all those antibiotics! Where’s a time machine when you need one?
I don’t think anyone really knows yet what a truly “healthy” community looks like (though researchers like Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe at the University of Guelph are working on this subject), and of course research like this is just starting to point in the direction of the different roles particular gut bacteria may play in interacting with our gut and immune systems, and maybe other organs of our bodies as well.
Who knows, in twenty years the knowledge that is just coming forward now might revolutionize medicine!
PS: I realized I promised a blog post on how my cancer-related research relates to the tumour-shrinking bacterium reported recently in news outlets, but quite honestly I have been very busy- in part learning more about new research to do with bacteria that are involved in cancer. Some bacteria seem to promote cancer, others fight it- it’s so interesting to me as a microbiologist to try to think of what molecules these bacteria may be producing that result in their differential effects. More on this subject as soon as I get a chance to digest it all.
A recent study using a soil-dwelling species of Clostridium (a bacterium that can grow without oxygen- in fact, requires an oxygen-free environment) has found that injecting this bacterium into tumours in dogs, and even humans, can shrink them! It’s not a “cure” for cancer, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ll be posting more on this study and how it relates to the work I am doing with Dr. Schiestl in the coming week.
A big thank you from Larry (below) and myself to all the donors to my recent crowdfunding project (Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria). I’ve placed updated information about the project, as well as a list of donors, on this site’s permanent pages.
Project stickers and keychains were put in the mail for USA residents a little while ago, so hopefully they are reaching their goals. I will hand-deliver stickers and keychains to a few more local acquaintances. So if you have ordered something, this little guy will be appearing in your mailbox shortly, if he hasn’t already arrived!
Please subscribe to RSS feeds for this site, or visit it regularly, for updates on the progress of this project as well as future planned work, and periodic descriptions of current research on the subject of how gut bacteria might affect your body.