The term “microbiota” describes a cluster of microorganisms that are concentrated in a specific environment in the human body. Microbiota can reside anywhere, from the surface of the skin to the urinary tract. Therefore, by definition, gut microbiota are tens of trillions of microorganisms that are located in the intestine.
Collectively, the gut microbiota form the gut microbiome. These organisms in the gut microbiome not only play a major role in gut health but also help to promote the overall health of the human body.
Here are six (possibly unexpected) ways your gut microbiome affects your health based on recent research.
1. The gut microbiota respond to exercise
Adding to the list of benefits associated with physical activity, researchers aimed to see if exercise had an effect on gut microbiota. After seeing positive effects in animals, researchers performed a study involving overweight women to see if their gut microorganisms would be altered with endurance exercise.
Though there was no decrease in weight, results showed a decrease in phospholipids, cholesterol in VLDL particles, and vascular adhesion protein-1 activity. These are important indicators of positive results as VLDL particles are normally involved in converting lipids into “bad” cholesterol. They also found anti-inflammatory effects. Longer trials may be needed further establish this relationship, but the researchers proposed that the bacteria Akkermansia is responsive to exercise.
2. The gut microbiome may affect responsiveness to immunotherapy
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Though no cure has yet to be discovered, immunotherapy has been successful in fighting cancer by reactivating the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. However, immunotherapeutic approaches have also shown to be ineffective in some patients; evidence has attributed this to the indigenous gut microbiome in patients.
When comparing participants who were responsive and unresponsive to immunotherapy, the researchers found differences in the diversity and quantity of their gut microbiome. This was confirmed with fecal transplantation studies done in mice with cancer. The mice with a transplant from responders had a better response to cancer immunotherapy than those with a transplant from non-responders. The microbiota in the gut is now a potential factor that must be considered when examining a patient’s response to cancer immunotherapy.
3. Gut health affects mental health
The quantity and quality of gut microbiota are influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Simple activities of daily living such as sleeping patterns, diet, or smoking habits can affect gut health composition. Evidence now indicates that an imbalance in gut microbiota can affect the neurological function and, in turn, the mental health of an individual.
Because the gut microbiota play a major role in the metabolism of oral medications, researchers have found that an imbalance in gut microbiota may contribute to the presence of anxiety disorders, depression, and dementia. Despite this, more research is needed to understand the mechanics behind this association.
4. Gut microbiota may help the treatment of epilepsy
As mentioned above, the microorganisms in the gut are easily affected by environmental factors. This includes diet. A study was done in 2018 to study the effects of the ketogenic diet on gut health. The ketogenic diet puts a body in a state called “ketosis”, where it is forced to breakdown fat for energy through a low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet.
The ketogenic diet has been long used to treat epilepsy, but the actual effects on how it affects brain activity to prevent seizures had been unknown. The study showed that the ketogenic diet increased the amount of specific bacterial species, which seemed to increase the seizure threshold of mice after electrical stimulation.
When given oral antibiotics that decreased the quantity of the specific bacteria, the seizure threshold returned back to control levels. Furthermore, the ketogenic diet had no effect on the mice who lacked overall gut microbiota. Researchers tested the ketogenic diet on various mouse models of epilepsy, all of which yielded positive results. Essentially, this indicates that the ketogenic diet and gut microbiota may improve different types of epilepsy.
Moreover, researchers examined the hippocampus in the epileptic mice with increased bacterial species and found an increase of inhibitory neurotransmitters and a reduction in excitatory neurotransmitters. This establishes that specific altered gut health can have a positive effect the prevention of epileptic episodes.
5. Gut health possibly increases success rates of heart transplants
Researchers in the USA and Europe conducted a study to determine the impact of gut microbiomes on the success of organ transplantations. Heart transplantation surgery was conducted on three types of mice with different types of gut health: normal mice, pregnant mice, and mice with diarrhea. Pregnant mice represented a gut with immunosuppression properties, in keeping with how a pregnant body would react to stop the rejection of a fetus. The mice with diarrhea represented inflammation in the gut, the opposite of immunosuppression.
When comparing the results, the researchers found that the pregnant mice had longer survival rates and less inflammation with the heart transplant than the mice with normal gut health and mice with diarrhea. It was concluded that the presence of specific gut bacteria may aid and predict the success of heart transplant surgeries.
6. The gut and lung microbiomes may influence the development of asthma
An imbalance of bacterial microbes can lead to an increased risk of developing inflammatory diseases such as asthma or allergies. This is because the interactions of different bacterial species throughout the body can help induce various immune responses, such as anti-inflammatory properties.
With respect to gut microbiomes, environmental factors begin to play the biggest factor in children after three years old. When comparing those who lived in a microbial-rich environment (such as a farm), researchers found that these children were less likely to develop asthma later on in life. Interestingly, the method of birth was also shown to influence the development of microbiomes in newborns. Vaginal deliveries showed a higher quantity of gut microbiomes that helped metabolize fibre and induce systemic anti-inflammatory effects.
Further expanding on a rich microbial environment, children who lived in such conditions also displayed more nasal microbiome diversity and a decreased risk of asthma. Overall, the presence of diverse microbiota throughout the body can heavily impact the immune function of an individual and risk of disease development later on in life.
Written by Stephanie C. Tsang
- Caetano, G. (2018, February 16). The Influence of the Gut and Lung Microbiomes in Asthma. – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/influence-gut-lung-microbiomes-asthma/
- Cribb, N. (2018, October 30). Could gut bacteria improve success rates of heart transplant surgery? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News an Medical Research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/gut-bacteria-success-heart-transplant-surgery/
- Evans, J. (2018). Does endurance training affect the gut microbiota? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/endurance-training-gut-microbiota/
- Gut Microbiota Info – Gut Microbiota for Health. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/about-gut-microbiota-info/
- Kellen, D. (2018). What is the role of the gut microbiome in mental health? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/role-gut-microbiome-mental-health/
- Khattar, V. (2018). How does the gut microbiome affect cancer immunotherapy? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/how-gut-microbiome-affect-cancer-immunotherapy/
- Wiggans, M. (2018). Ketogenic diet may help treat epilepsy by altering the gut microbiota – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/ketogenic-diet-treat-epilepsy-gut-microbiota/