What Might a Microbiome Study Accomplish?

apple-a-day
A lot of researchers have found evidence that, even though the path might not be direct, gut permeability can indirectly lead to obesity. When junk molecules sneak through the unauthorized holes and enter the bloodstream, the body defends by setting up the reaction we call inflammation, and multiple bad outcomes can ensue.

This is why the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” may be literally true. Asher Preska Steinberg, co-author of a Caltech study, says, “It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but it may be that eating an apple a day will affect the shape of the lining in your gut.”

The study had set out to discover what happens when the gel layer encounters different kinds of polymers. But what is the gel layer, and why should we care?

The university’s website says:

Our intestinal tracts are lined with a mucus gel that acts as a protective barrier between the insides of our bodies and the outside world. The gel lets in nutrients and largely blocks out bacteria, preventing infections. It also regulates how some drugs are delivered elsewhere in our bodies.

A whole list of co-existing factors is suspected of contributing to the leaky gut syndrome, and its mysteries are far from explained. Scientists were already aware that the bacterium H. pylori makes holes in the stomach lining to burrow in and protect itself from the acidic environment, and those same holes allow acid to escape into places where it doesn’t belong.

Also, they had learned that the gel (the mucus lining of the gut) can change rapidly. It is described as being something like a sponge, with natural holes that are compressed by some substances, including polymers like dietary fiber. This appears to offer protective value. In mice that had been raised germ-free, the compressive effect was greater.

The report quotes team member Dr. Rustem Ismagilov:

This implies that species of bacteria in our gut that are known to break down polymers can weaken the compressing effect. We previously thought of the gel as a static structure, so it was unexpected to find an interplay between diet and gut microbiota that rapidly and dynamically changes the biological structures that protect a host.

The condition known as the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is also under scrutiny, and is not completely understood, but connections have been observed between its symptoms and the presence of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. People with more severe IBS are found to have more than is considered normal of some types of bacteria, and less of others.

In particular, their aerobe to anaerobe ratio is increased, in comparison with the norm. What this may mean in terms of eventually alleviating this condition is unknown, but the signs look hopeful.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Dietary Fiber and Microbes Change the Gel That Lines Our Gut,” Caltech.edu, 06/13/16
Source: “The Interplay of the Gut Microbiome, Bile Acids, and Volatile Organic Compounds,” NIH.gov, 03/03/15
Photo credit: Valerie Everett via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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