A growing pile of evidence indicates that the tens of trillions of microbes that normally live in our intestines — the so-called gut microbiome — have far-reaching effects on how our bodies function. Members of this microbial community produce vitamins, help us digest food, prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and regulate the immune system, among other benefits. Now, a new study suggests that the gut microbiome also plays a key role in the health of our brains, according to researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The study, in mice, found that gut bacteria — partly by producing compounds such as short chain fatty acids — affect the behavior of immune cells throughout the body, including ones in the brain that can damage brain tissue and exacerbate neurodegeneration in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. The findings, published Jan. 13 in the journal Science, open up the possibility of reshaping the gut microbiome as a way to prevent or treat neurodegeneration.
“We gave young mice antibiotics for just a week, and we saw a permanent change in their gut microbiomes, their immune responses, and how much neurodegeneration related to a protein called tau they experienced with age,” said senior author David M. Holtzman, MD, the Barbara Burton and Reuben M. Morriss III Distinguished Professor of Neurology. “What’s exciting is that manipulating the gut microbiome could be a way to have an effect on the brain without putting anything directly into the brain.”
Evidence is accumulating that the gut microbiomes in people with Alzheimer’s disease can differ from those of healthy people. But it isn’t clear whether these differences are the cause or the result of the disease — or both — and what effect altering the microbiome might have on the course of the disease.
Our body’s relationship with bacteria is complex. While infectious bacteria can cause illness, our gut is also teaming with “good” bacteria that aids nutrition and helps keep us healthy. But even the “good” can have bad effects if these bacteria end up in tissues and organs where they’re not supposed to be.
Now, research published in Nature reveals insights into how the body maintains this balance. Investigations with mice demonstrate that early life is a critical time when the immune system learns to recognize gut bacteria and sets up surveillance that keeps them in check. Defects in these mechanisms could help explain why the immune system sometimes attacks good bacteria in the wrong place, causing the chronic inflammation that’s responsible for inflammatory bowel disease, the study’s authors say
To establish a healthy relationship with “good” gut bacteria, the body trains the immune system to recognize these microbes at early stages.
“From the time we are born, our immune system is set up so that it can learn as much as it can to distinguish the good from the bad,” says Matthew Bettini, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology at U of U Health and co-corresponding author with Sloan Kettering Institute immunologist Gretchen Diehl, Ph.D. “Our studies make clear that there is a window in which gut microbiota have access to the immune education process. This opens up possibilities for designing therapeutics that can influence the trajectory of the immune system during this early time point.”
Do you know that feeling you get in your gut? It turns out your gut may really be trying to tell you something. Our microbiome – the 100 trillion bacteria and organisms living in our gut – appears to have a profound influence on our health and risk of disease. And early scientific studies show there may be a link between the microbiome and the brain that could impact the risk of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
The microbiome is a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live mostly in our intestinal system. They play an important role in digestion and the production of certain vitamins, and they support our immune system. Researchers around the world study the gut microbiome, especially those bacteria unique to individuals, to learn more about their influence on our overall health.
I am a chocolate lover. I have some every day of my life. Granted, what I consume are small quantities which I devour slowly and let simply melt in my mouth. I also know that dark chocolate has more benefits than the sweet milk chocolate of my childhood. Herewith, Medical News Today‘s take on the dark delight.
Chocolate lovers, rejoice; the sweet treat is not only delicious, but studies show that it can also promote friendly bacteria and reduce inflammation in our guts. But first, some background: trillions of bacteria live in our guts. They contribute to our immune system, metabolism, and many other processes essential to human health.
When the delicate balance of microbes in our intestines is disturbed, it can have serious consequences.
I traveled recently for an extended period of time. I ate airport food, I visited tons of restaurants, and I stocked my hotel room with quick packaged snacks.
It’s travel, right? So not a problem. Right?
Ok, so I get back home and happily revert back to my normal diet. Then I proceed to spend the next 2 days with bloating, abdominal pain, and various other gastrointestinal unmentionables.
I was fine, though sub-par, on the crappier diet and then felt pretty darn bad on the healthier one. And this isn’t unheard of when people make more long-term changes to picking a more nutritious diet.
What’s the deal with that?
What it comes down to, as is the case with so many common health problems, is our gut bacteria. Turns out, several days of different exposure to our gut bacteria is enough to make a big difference in the quality, quantity…
“Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium, or because we think it might help our health in other ways,” says Kirsten Tillisch, MD, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and the lead study author. “Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment.”
UCLA researchers now have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans. In an early proof-of-concept study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed probiotics through yogurt showed altered brain function both while in a resting state and in response to an emotion-recognition task.
The study, conducted by scientists with UCLA’s Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress and the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA, appears in Gastroenterology.
The discovery that changing the bacterial environment, or microbiota, in the gut can affect the brain carries significant implications for future research that could point the way toward dietary or drug interventions to improve brain function, the researchers say. “Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium, or because we think it might help our health in other…