Microbiome, Metabolome & Disease


 

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Many of us have followed the research in this field for health, happiness and well-being. Today’s questions and answers from an expert on microbiota in Reddit Science is of great interest and something I wanted on these pages for future reference. I sifted through the pages to condense the questions, leaving answers intact. AMA is short for Ask Me Anything. Where Professor Barrett’s  responses to questions are clear, I have omitted the questions; where not clear, questions are abbreviated and/or added. I am sure we would all like much more information on inflammation and the inflammasome, the gut and brain and health. Support science. Be careful of low quality journals and quackery. She says even some yogurts have no bacteria.

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Science AMA Series: I’m Kim Barrett, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego and Editor of The Journal of Physiology. This week, we published an issue on the microbiota [editorial free], so I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss how our microbes influence our well being. AMA!

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This is her main message, again and again:

[–]Kim_Barrett

Eat a well-balanced diet, including cultured/fermented foods, and avoid excessive fat and processed carbohydrates..

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[–]Kim_Barrett

Thanks to both. There is a lot of epidemiological evidence for the health benefits of all of these fermented foods, which may deliver bacteria similar to probiotics as well as beneficial metabolites that have greater bioavailabilty. These foods have been consumed by humans for millennia but were less prevalent in the diet as society discovered refrigeration etc. But studies to actually prove efficacy and mechanisms of action remain in their infancy. This is an area where the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is placing a lot of emphasis for research funding.

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Q Nose/sinuses:

[–]Kim_Barrett

Yes, this is a less appreciated area but rapidly growing area of study. I definitely would encourage you to look at our special issue of the Journal of Physiology, which has short reviews on the oral, skin and vaginal microbiota. Our external cavities all have their own distinctive microbiotas, but in aggregate they may encode many of the same sorts of metabolic capacities as seen in the gut. The specific populations may also depend on the type of environment – for example, the bugs on your forearm are different from those on your forehead. Lots more work to be done.

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there is not a simple way currently of knowing about our microbiota’s composition, but general indices of gut health may give some clues. Likewise, finding effective probiotics may be a bit of a case of trial-and-error, but there is good epidemiological evidence for a beneficial effect of fermented foods like Kombucha.

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Q on IBS:

[–]Kim_Barrett 

Serotonin is a major controller of gut motility and sensation, and alterations in serotonin signaling have been documented in irritable bowel syndrome. The cells that make serotonin in the gut have been shown to express receptors for short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are major products of bacterial metabolism of undigested carbohydrates. Finally, some gut bacteria metabolize the serotonin precursoe, tryptophan, which in turn has implications for the production of appropriate gut levels of serotonin.

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Q:  Sometimes, when I am constipated, I can perceive a certain taste and smell that arrives internally. Have direct nerve connections between the bowel and the brain been identified? What role to microbiota play in perception of satiety? What is the importance of the neurological phenomenon vs the blood chemistry in controlling weight gain or loss?

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[–]Kim_Barrett 

Lots of nerve connections between the brain and gut, and gut nerve endings have been shown to sense bacterial metabolites. To the extent that the microbiota and their metabolites control the secretion of GI hormones, they clearly participate in satiety perception, but this still needs further study. And weight gain/loss is such a complex phenomenon, also encompassing societal and behavioral aspects, that the relative contributions of the factors you mention have not been worked out by any means.

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Good and bad may be too simplistic. A “good” bacteria may be bad for you if in the wrong place. As for substrates and products, this is probably too big of a topic to tackle right now, but I would direct you to the work of Eugene Chang at the University of Chicago who has done a lot of work in this area. Gut permeability is also clearly important. We have done work to show that certain commensal and probiotic species can tighten the gut barrier so that pathogens and toxic metabolites are less able to penetrate and initiate inappropriate inflammatory reactions and a vicious cycle of further weakening of the gut barrier.

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Q   Strong evidence correlates aberrations in gut diversity with certain diseases. Phylogentitcally speaking, it seems to matter more that the microbiome is diverse and less important which species are specifically there. The hypothesis being that the gut microbial metabolome is relatively stable, regardless of specific species present. http://go.nature.com/2iQLOu1

Q1 – Have clinicians started to take the next step, looking at disease correlations with perturbation of the microbial metabolome?

Q2 – If so, what have they found? Do probiotics replace those missing metabolic pathways?

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[–]Kim_Barrett 

Absolutely agree with your comments about the metabolome. However, most of this work at present is still in preclinical models, although there has been a lot of attention to the way in which metabolic pathways change after bariatric surgery, for example.

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Q:

When I was very young, I had a few instances of food poisoning visiting family in Mexico, I even contacted tuberculosis. I, of course, was given many antibiotics. I’ve had a lot of digestive issues since then, it was always a problem. I’m 36 now, and adopted a very low carb diet 3 years ago. During the initial transition, I had, to put it succinctly, severe dhiarrea. Like stuff was probably dieing off. And then, 4 months in, I had more energy, metal alertness, and general feeling of being present. And I no longer had crippling depression. From a completely anecdotal standpoint, I think that changing my diet also drastically changed my gut biome, and that, in turn, actually effected my brain function. It seems like what you’re research has shown is that this isn’t some woo-woo thinking, but an actual thing?

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Q does Kefir boost gut bacteria?

[–]Kim_Barrett

Yes, along with other related foods.

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Q are we discovering new categories of bacteria in the body?

[–]Kim_Barrett 

This was a big sticking point in the field initially since many of the bacteria cannot be cultured. Now they are identified by sequencing. The estimate is that healthy individuals harbor at least 1000 different species. Not to mention viruses, fungi, protea….we’re just getting started, and as you imply, the bioinformatics challenges are huge.

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[–]Kim_Barrett 

There’s quite a bit of evidence that mixtures of different bacteria are more effective than single bacteria. Perhaps they have complementary metabolic functions, or mutually help each other to colonize the gut.

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Q  research of healthy bacteria for auto immune disease?  Crohn’s disease?

[–]Kim_Barrett

Others are exploring a role in asthma.

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Q: studies in which obese mice had received gut flora from lean mice and subsequently lost weight, and vice versa. Does this imply that a microbial treatment for obesity in humans could be developed, and if so, is there any interest in this?

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[–]Kim_Barrett 

A lot of people are looking for just such a treatment!

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