The sheer volume of what’s being discovered now about how the bacteria in our gut determine our physical and mental health is overwhelming. Literally, if your gut bacteria are screwed up, this can be linked with many different diseases and being overweight. Hence, if you remove the “ick” factor, it makes sense that if you took gut bacteria from a healthy person and transplanted it into someone who is sick, this may help the recipient. This morning’s study authors did just that with patients who had type-2 diabetes, and what they found may rock the foundations of the pharma world.
Why Are Researchers so Interested in Our Feces?
We’ve seen a lot of good research in recent years linking health to the conditions in our microbiome, or the bacteria inside our gut and poop. For example, last month we covered a study that found that losing weight isn’t just about eating right; it’s also about having the right gut bacteria. Subjects on the New Nordic Diet who also had a higher ratio of Prevotella to Bacteroides bacteria lost body fat while those on the same diet with a lower ratio of Prevotella to Bacteroides bacteria did not.
If it’s not just about diet, what can we do to make our gut bacteria healthy? To control blood sugar and weight, probiotic supplements containing the more common bacterial strains (e.g., Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium animalis) have been shown to be beneficial, and these strains also help regulate gut inflammation.
I’ll get to the study in a moment, but first let’s look at more links between health and our gut bacteria.
Bacteroides and other bad bacteria have been shown to lead to leaky gut syndrome, and populations with higher obesity have higher amounts of this bacteria in their sewage, one multi-city study found. Though sewage samples may not be as reliable as “fresh” feces samples, a study such as this may be a good catalyst for more studies. Additionally, our gut bacteria, because it lives alongside the cells of our immune system (which live inside our intestinal walls), have been linked to diabetes. The link between our gut bacteria and immune system is so strong, our microbiome is often referred to as our second immune system. Finally, diabetes, leaky gut, and bad bacteria are the perfect storm for metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, etc.).
A few other important reasons to improve your gut bacteria:
- Fibers found in certain gut bacteria may move to the brain, leading to Parkinson’s disease. This research suggested gut bacteria may be different in Parkinson’s disease.
- Gut bacteria can influence stem cells positively or negatively, depending on the bacteria.
- Gut bacteria interact with the part of the brain that processes emotion and can, therefore, affect emotional health.
Study Review: Treating Diabetes with Healthy Poop
In the new study, researchers investigated insulin resistance in two groups of obese male subjects with metabolic syndrome. Their focus was a procedure called FMT that has been used for the last decade to treat severe and life-threatening bacteria overgrowth in the gut called C. difficile. FMT stands for fecal microbiota transplant. Basically, the poop of a healthy person is transplanted into the colon of the sick person to “reboot” the gut bacteria.
In this study, one group of diabetic patients received healthy donor (“lean donor”) feces while the other group did not, and subjects in both groups continued their regular diets. Six weeks following the FMT, the donor-feces group experienced significant improvements in insulin sensitivity. This means that insulin that wasn’t working well to lower blood sugar got better at that job. The group also experienced metabolic benefits associated with greater diversity in the gut bacteria. These positive changes to the gut microbiome were not found in the other group.
Researchers concluded that the gut bacteria of those who are obese and have metabolic syndrome can be improved by implanting stool from a healthy, lean donor! The benefits were not long-term and ended when the subjects’ microbiome returned to the prestudy baseline condition. While not a permanent solution to an important quest to improve your gut bacteria, the results give much needed additional information.
The upshot? FMT has already ruffled pharma feathers. While not curative here in diabetes, it’s routinely curative for patients who have the dreaded and sometimes deadly, C. difficile gut infection. The problem is that transplanting poop is a medical procedure that doesn’t place money in the pockets of pharma execs. Hence, the medical society behind FMT has already been notified that poop transplants will likely be regulated as a prescription drug. You just can’t make this stuff up! However, pharma is hard at work creating an artificial-poop pill! While I know all of this sounds like an episode from The Onion, it’s all true! Welcome to Pharmerica folks!