We share our bodies with billions of microbes that are crucial to staying healthy, but now scientists are getting a much-needed close-up of how those critters can come out of the blow and provoke diseases.
One lesson: a single test to see which intestinal bacteria doesn't tell you much.
Research published Wednesday has found repeated tests in which the microbial zoo changed in ways that could ultimately help doctors determine who is at risk of being born prematurely, bowel inflammation, even diabetes.
It is the so-called microbiome, the community of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on the skin or in the gut, nose or reproductive organs.
& # 39; The instability of our microbiome can be an early indicator of something going wrong & # 39 ;, said Dr. Lita Proctor, who oversees microbiome research at the National Institutes of Health.
We share our bodies with billions of mostly friendly microbes that are important for things like good digestion. Now scientists are learning how that microbial zoo can change in a way that could one day make them predict who is at risk of causing health problems
A HOT FIELD
A lot of research has been done on the thousands of species that live in our bodies and work in ways that are important to health, such as good digestion.
Microbiomas begin to form at birth and are different depending on whether babies are born vaginally or via a C-section. And they change with age and various exposures, such as an antibiotic cure that can wipe out friendly bacteria along with infection-fighting bacteria.
But cataloging differences in microbes in healthy and unhealthy people is not enough information.
Which jobs do the bugs perform? Do they go up temporarily or are they switched off if you get an infection or become pregnant or become 20 kilos? When is a shift in your microbiome not only temporary but bad for long-term health – and is it possible to resolve this?
Three NIH-funded studies followed three microbiome-related health conditions to learn how to start finding those answers.
INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASES
For a year, a Harvard-led research team followed 132 people with conditions such as painful Crohn's disease and some healthy people for comparison. They took faecal samples every two weeks and checked how microbes affected the immune system or metabolism.
As the diseases decrease and decrease, as do the microbial activity, researchers reported in the journal Nature. Surprisingly, a patient's gut microbiome changed radically in a few weeks before a flare-up.
Some microbes produce molecules that keep the gut wall healthy, probably a reason why the disease worsened when those insects disappeared, Proctor said.
About 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely and researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found a warning signal in the vaginal microbiome that changes during the course of pregnancy.
Researchers followed nearly 600 pregnancies and reported in naturopathy that women born prematurely – especially African-Americans – had a tendency to have lower than normal levels of a type of Lactobacillus bacterium in the first trimester.
They also harbor higher levels of certain other bacterial species, which are related to inflammation.
TYPE 2 DIABETES
In nature, too, a Stanford University-led research team followed 106 people for four years, some healthy and some pre-diabetics. Up to 10 percent of pre-diabetics will develop diabetes every year, but there is little way to predict who.
The researchers did microbial, genetic and molecular changes testing every quarter, plus tests when the volunteers contracted an airway infection and even while some deliberately stopped and lost weight. It is not surprising that they have found a list of microbial and inflammatory early warning signs for diabetes brewing.
But most interestingly, people who are insulin resistant showed delayed immune responses to respiratory tract infections, which correlates with contained microbial responses.
The studies provide & # 39; an amazing and overwhelming amount of data & # 39; but more work is needed to determine if the clues come forward, said NYU Langone Health immunologist Ken Cadwell, who was not involved in the new study .
But the take-home message, especially since the gut tests of gut bacteria have already been sold: & # 39; If you test your microbiome on Tuesday, it will tell you about your microbiome on Tuesday, & # 39; Cadwell warned. To be able to follow important changes one day, simpler, cheaper tests must be performed, he added.
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