Research is very exciting these days because there are a lot of investigations into the workings of the gut microbiome. I know I write about this a lot, but it fascinates me because I think it is the key to emerging therapies for chronic degenerative diseases and autoimmune diseases. Just the other day I came across a study about how the microbiome of one man changed dramatically after taking just one course of antibiotics. Can you imagine how it changes after several courses?
In this study published in the online journal Gut, Andres Moya et al, followed a man who was treated with antibiotics for an infection in his pacemaker. He took antibiotics for two weeks and survived the infection. However, a look at his gut microbes (through stool samples — you just stop being squeamish after a while) showed their survival to be less than stellar.
Over the treatment period of two weeks they collected stool samples every few days and then a final sample 6 weeks later. Through DNA analysis, they identified the various species in the stool, as well as other genes that the bacteria controlled.
Beneficial Bacteria Under Attack
The researchers found that the entire microbiome acted like it was under attack. The bacteria started to release defense mechanisms as shields from the chemical antibiotics. The bacteria shut down any activities as a way of preserving energy. This included shutting down vitamin production for the host as well as reduction in many metabolic activities that our friendly bacteria perform for us such as, the transport and metabolism of bile acids, cholesterol and hormones.
Without sufficient bacteria present to move these substances along, breakdown of metabolites can build up and lead to disease.
These findings indicate that the bacteria are one step ahead. They identify a threat and they take immediate steps to survive.
The investigators noted that these important host–microbial interactions were found to significantly improve after antibiotic treatment ended.
Major changes in the activity and population of the microbiota were noted at days 6, 11 and 14, after the initiation of the therapy. During this time some populations of species were dramatically reduced only to reemerge days later (however at reduced numbers), and other species were reduced for good.
The researchers found that broad-spectrum antibiotics result in a significant reduction in Bacteroidetes and a concurrent increase in Firmicutes.
Firmicutes Increase with Antibiotic Use
Recent studies have shown that each person hosts a unique and relatively stable gut microbiota, generally dominated (over 90%) by colonies of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, with smaller colonies of Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. However, the majority of the species have not been isolated or even discovered yet.
This study shows that both Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes increase in obesity. The study also found a statistically significant positive trend for higher hsCRP (a marker for inflammation) in subjects with positive Firmicutes. Low level inflammation is associated with obesity.
Firmicutes Associated with Obesity
This is interesting. Firmicutes are implicated in obesity. Antibiotics are used in livestock to help fatten them up. Perhaps the mechanism for increased growth from antibiotics is due to the increase in Firmicutes species.
Here, Firmicutes have been found to increase with antibiotic use. So it appears to be a cycle: Firmicutes increase with antibiotic use: Antibiotics are used to fatten livestock: Human obesity is associated with an increased level of Firmicutes.
We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic in the face of over-usage of antibiotics. Do you think the two may be related? While the meat industry denies that antibiotics in animal feed are passed on to the meat of these animals, we know that antibiotic resistant bacteria are emerging due to these feeding practices.
We know for sure that antibiotics end up in the milk of cows fed this way.
Microbiota and Symptoms
In this study samples were taken from 15 healthy adults and symptoms were recorded with each sample. These researchers found that,
Five subjects showed transient microbiota destabilization, which correlated not only with the intake of antibiotics but also with overseas traveling and temporary illness… We identified significant correlations between the microbiota and common intestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain and bloating. The most striking finding was the inverse correlation between Bifidobacteria and abdominal pain: subjects who experienced pain had over five-fold less Bifidobacteria compared to those without pain.
Beneficial Bacteria Have Innate Intelligence
The implications of these studies are significant. It opens the door to further investigations involving larger study populations and it brings to light the intelligence and value of the gut microbiota — something nutritionists have been saying for years.
Studies like these will highlight and expand our understanding of what the various strains of microbes do for us and can lead to therapeutic formulations that encourage health rather than medications that are out to kill.
Overuse of antibiotics may cease in the light of the current scientific research that indicates just how detrimental it is for all of us.
Furthermore, these investigations hint at the diagnostic potential of microbial markers. Once we know what they do for us, we can use them to indicate imbalances and other metabolic problems.
How to Nourish Your Microbiome
- Try not to use antibiotics at all or only when it is clearly indicated. Medical doctors are still giving out antibiotics like candy. Always question whether or not it is absolutely necessary. There are many home remedies, superfoods and supplements that can be used when appropriate.
- Don’t eat the meat or drink the milk of feedlot animals. They are feed antibiotics as part of their daily feed and it will surely end up on their tissues and milk.
- Nourish your gut bacteria with cultured and fermented foods that add probiotics to your diet through food.
- Take a good probiotic supplement if you are not eating enough fermented foods and/or recovering from an illness — chronic or otherwise.
- Don’t be too clean — exposing your body to bacteria engages and develops the immune system. Use only non-toxic cleaners and personal care products that won’t kill you bacteria.