New research published in the journal Science links emergence of sex-hormone driven autoimmune disorders to certain gut microbiota and may offer clues as to why some chronic illnesses with presumed autoimmune etiology, such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis, may be more common in women than men.
Since starting this blog journal with my first entry last year (see archives for blog entry in May and link to original article in German published in DIE WELT http://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/wissen/article106369682/Darmbakterien-machen-dick.html ) describing the association between obesity and the ecology of the human gut microbiome, a lot of solid research has emerged in this area, with mainstream media finally starting to pay increased attention to a topic that used to be subject to ridicule, and was long neglected by the scientific community and mainstream medical community at large: the vital importance of intestinal sanitation. Re-establishing a healthy intestinal flora has been more or less scorned by our modern culture, and relegated as quackery unworthy of serious scientific inquiry as portrayed in T. C. Boyle’s novel ‘Road to Wellville’ that describes the historical fictionalization of corn flakes inventor John Harvey Kellog, whose breakfast cereal business is inspired by a sojourn in a sanitorium in Michigan – an American take on Thomas Mann’s epic novel “The Zauberberg” where the tuberculosis-ridden intellectual elite whiles away in the Swiss Alps in an attempt to cure themselves with a regimen of fresh air at the beginning of the last century. Both fictional accounts satirize holistic naturopathic cures replete with the ‘taking of fresh air’ to aerate pathogen-riddled lungs, or, in the event of the former account, colonic enemas to irrigate the bowels—both rather primitive attempts at restoring health.
Somehow it feels as though the Zeitgeist has changed and we’ve entered a new cycle. It seems as though we’re collectively paying increased attention to our health again, with more of a focus on essentially natural healing methods, especially when modern medicine finds itself at wit’s end. One needs only look at the evolution of treatment-resistant microbes with antibiotics increasingly rendered useless, when they were once considered the magic bullet to curing infections. The history of medicine has seen such a renaissance going ‘back to nature’ before with Samuel Hahnemann’s homeopathic response to curing disease with low potency dilutions of substances based on what was found in the animal, mineral and vegetable kingdom and applied according to the Law’s of Nature and the principals of Similars. Dr. Hahnemann was not a friend of the contemporary medicine practiced during his times.
When the New England Journal of Medicine published findings this past week (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1205037) of the efficacy of a fecal transplant to cure antibiotic-resistant strains of Clostridium difficile, even the New York Times picked up on it and ran a front-page story in its Global edition – the IHT. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/health/disgusting-maybe-but-treatment-works-study-finds.html?ref=science)
When we take antibiotics we unselectively destroy and wipe out gut microbes required for a healthy gut ecology, which may result in the emergence of resistant strains to the detriment of good bacteria. This understanding is by no means new, and yet too many doctors still prescribe antibiotics without thinking twice. And so we live in an era where fecal transplants suddenly become all the rage! Another person’s healthy gut microbes become a sick person’s boon. And it works as a cure when antibiotics fail to do the trick.
Gut microbes are suddenly in. And the link to many diseases originating through an imbalance – or dysbiosis – of the billions of different strains of bacteria our human intestines harbor, is undisputable. (In fact we harbor more bacteria in our human guts than cells in our bodies, to put that into a tangible dimension). The latest research performed in mice that are often used as an animal model to study type 1 diabetes (just published in the journal Science)suggests that there is an association between the emergence of autoimmune disorders and the ecology of gut microbes that are dependent on the presence or absence of testosterone in the host. This hints at a possible sex-hormone dependent vulnerability to emergence of disease in which specific gut microbes are the pre-requisite. According to this study in mice, testosterone may confer a protection, while female animals develop disease when they harbor certain types of bacteria in their intestines.
Multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are just two diseases for which modern medicine still has no explanation as to its precise etiology that are presumed to have some sort of a sex-linked and gut microbial origin with an inflammatory and autoimmune component like type 1 diabetes.
Another recently published study (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130118064731.htm) demonstrated how good bacteria in the gut may play an important role in preventing diabetes. When the balance is distorted, inflammation occurs and the disease develops. And even eczema in children can be traced back to these children having a more diverse set of bacteria in their guts normally associated with adults (showing clusters of so-called Clostridium clusters) according to recent findings released in the open access journal BMC Microbiology (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2180/13/12/abstract).
As a physician working in coaching people in disease prevention, I am convinced that nutrition plays one of the most vital, if not the primary role in the prevention of many chronic inflammatory illnesses. It is our primary medicine and I think the scientific link can be found in the maintenance of sanitary intestinal health with an optimal balance of the friendly microbes–in-residence.
With research into the human and also microbial genome advancing at a rapid pace, I believe the medicine of the future will be a combination of a healthy diet of whole, unprocessed foods along with lifestyle changes that are adapted to personal genetic predispositions that the field of metabolomics will help shed more light just a few years down the road. We all have a different enzymatic make up, but with a common sense approach, most chronic diseases should be almost entirely preventable. It will be more important than ever to be wise about our lifestyle choice, especially with the increase in environmental toxins – just think of the toxic metals such a mercury already poisoning our food chains – and to choose our nutrition and lifestyles wisely, where at all possible.
Stay tuned to ‘the mdjournal’ blog for more science emerging in this field of intestinal health and gut microbial genomics.