Friday, April 26, 2013

The Microbiome of the Gut: Medicine's Final Frontier?

I have been fascinated by a new school of technology that has revealed itself to us in the last few years presented by Suzanne Devkota, PhD, at the recent ASBP Conference. There are 100 trillion bacterial cells in our bodies (more than the number of cells that make up our body). Recently bacterial 16s ribosomal genes have been identified that give us a very fast, specific and quantitative identification of the bacteria in the stomach and gut.  It gives us a new gene map of the gastrointestinal system. This identification process not only allows us to look at the current bacteria in the gut, but lets us look at bacteria present in the guts of our ancestors.  It also gives us insight into how we metabolize food and how these bacteria can be helpful in the treatment of disease.

There are thousands of bacteria in our bodies that live symbiotically with us of which we were never aware. Landmark papers have been released about these bacteria and their effects begining in 2001.  Most of these papers have focused on how these bacteria affect obesity. There are three very interesting benefits I found important.
1. The spectrum of bacteria in our gut affects how we metabolize and break down different foods in our diet. It also influences our health. 
2. Mothers transfer the microbiomes early on through the method of birth.  There are very specific bacteria that confer specific beneficial or harmful immunity to a person's body.
3. These bacteria have the ability to perform Lateral Gene Transfer. Bacteria have the ability to share genes "laterally," to their neighbor, that confer antibiotic resistance, immunity or action. 

What is also important is that these microbes can process dietary fibers more effectively leading to increased formation of glucose and free fatty acids and triglycerides.  This can be the reasons that some people gain weight from the same fiber intake that others don't. These bacteria can also increases Lipoprotien Lipase, the enzyme in the body that stimulates increased fat storage. 

Another fascinating piece of information relating to this field of study reveals that certain bacteria found in patient's with type II diabetes causes a "gut leakiness  that arises predisposing many to various forms of bowel inflammation. 

The types of fat we eat actually have an effect on the bacteria colonies and upon the degree of "leakiness" in the GI system.  This may be why so many patient feel like they have "gluten" intolerance or gastrointestinal inflammation.

Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to help protect the bacteria and the "leakiness" in the GI system.  

We still have much to learn in this area and much to gain as we apply what we are learning. 

Stay tuned . . .

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