15 Gut Health Research Breakthroughs That Could Change Everything
New research on your microbiome—the bacteria living in your gut—is changing how experts think about disease and health.
A healthy gut may help fight cancer
Research also suggests a good diet may help battle other diseases, including cancer. In a study recently presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting, scientists found that melanoma patients who ate a high-fiber diet were five times more likely to respond to an immunotherapy treatment. Other research previously suggested that a diverse gut microbiome would lead to a more favorable response to the treatment. “Imagine if you could increase the number of patients who benefit from immunotherapy through something as simple as dietary changes—that would be remarkable,” study author Christine Spencer, PhD, said in a statement. “This study does point to diet playing a role in immunotherapy response via the gut microbiome, and we hope these findings will spur more studies on this topic in the cancer research community.”
Gut bacteria could help stroke victims
The gut doesn’t just impact the brain: It appears the brain impacts the gut as well. A recent study in mice showed that strokes unfavorably altered their gut bacteria and intestinal tissue even a month after the event, which could weaken nutrition and compromise stroke recovery. The unbalanced gut bacteria could also have negative effects on the recovering brain’s function and behavior. “If it ends up being that the gut has an influence on the repair of the brain, maybe our stroke treatments shouldn’t just be focused on what we can do for the brain—maybe we need to think about what can we do for the gut,” said study author and graduate student Allison Brichacek of the West Virginia University School of Medicine in a statement.
Diet may treat diabetes
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Is there anything the gut microbiome can’t treat? As Dr. Preidis explains, gut microbes produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SFCA) when they break down certain fibers, which might help people with diabetes. “Recently, a study enrolling diabetic patients found that consuming a specially designed fiber-containing diet increased numbers of SCFA-producing gut bacteria and improved signs of diabetes,” he says. On the flip side, “studies are linking low levels of certain molecules generated by bacteria in the gut to be risk factors for conditions like type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Angle says. “Meaning if you don’t have the right types of bacteria in the gut, you could be at elevated risk for serious conditions.”
Gut bacteria could treat PCOS
No one’s sure what causes polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a female endocrine condition marked by altered hormones and reproductive issues—and there is no cure. Previous research has found that the gut microbiome is less diverse in women with the condition; a new study suggests that mice with PCOS who were exposed to healthy gut microbes displayed a reduction in symptoms. “Our new results suggest that altering the gut microbiome via prebiotic or probiotic therapies may be a potential treatment option for PCOS,” study author Varykina Thackray, PhD, of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Additional research is needed to understand how specific gut bacteria contribute to PCOS.” Diagnosing the condition can be tricky—these are the 8 signs of PCOS that every woman should know.
Antibiotics could change gut bacteria permanently
Although antibiotics are sometimes necessary to fight against infection, doctors know they can wipe out good bacteria, too. But a recent study from the UK found that this state of unbalance in the microbiome, called “dysbiosis,” could last for at least a year—or maybe even permanently. “It is important that the microbiome be balanced and not in a state of dysbiosis,” Dr. Angle says. “Dysbiosis can further skew the balance of healthy microbes, pushing people to a state of unhealthiness.” Although the exact effects of antibiotics on the gut microbiome aren’t yet known, the study authors note that these results do raise concerns about their use.
Gut bacteria may protect against food allergies
Certain gut bacteria may also aid in preventing or treating food allergies. A recent study found that mice given gut microbes from healthy infants were protected against an allergic reaction to cow’s milk; however, those given microbes from allergic infants had a bad reaction to the milk. “This study allows us to define a causal relationship and shows that the microbiota itself can dictate whether or not you get an allergic response,” study author Cathryn Nagler, PhD, of the University of Chicago, told UChicago Medicine’s website. The results could pave the way for new food allergy treatments utilizing certain gut bacteria. In addition, probiotics could be your best defense against spring allergies.
A healthy microbiome could calm inflammation
Another World Summit study found a pathway to explain how “good” gut bacteria helps control inflammation and fight inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Healthy bacteria support proteins that block overactive immune cells—these cells attack healthy tissues and set up the inflammation that triggers symptoms. Also: “Clinical trials using probiotics have reported a variety of beneficial effects for individuals with various gut disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease,” Dr. Preidis says. But, “despite a growing body of research, defining a precise role for probiotics remains challenging. Nonetheless, it is likely that one day probiotics might have a well-defined role in the management of certain gut disorders.” If you’re looking to start a probiotics regimen now, here are the 13 probiotics brands nutritionists trust most.