Did you know your gut may be the key to better health? Today, researchers are learning more about the role your gut microbiome plays in developing disease as well as how it can be used to manage and treat health conditions.
What is a microbiome?
The microbiome is a community or group of microbes that live together. It includes bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses that form a complex ecosystem that affects bodily functions. There are different types of microbiomes within your body – for example, the gut microbiome.
Your microbiome is constantly in flux and changes depending on various factors including diet, antibiotics exposure, stress levels and physical activity.
What are the main functions of the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome supports everyday functions within the body. In addition to helping your body digest food and extract nutrients, it helps control metabolism, decreases inflammation, modulates the immune system and protects against pathogens that may otherwise cause harm.
How does the gut microbiome affect my health?
Your gut microbiome is made up of microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful to your body. While most of the microbes are beneficial to your body and help promote bodily functions, others are pathogenic and can lead to disease. When the microbes are in balance, your body functions normally. But if the balance is off, it can lead to health problems.
What is the relationship between the gut microbiome, health and disease?
When there is a disturbance in your gut microbiome’s balance, your body can become more susceptible to disease. This imbalance can be brought on by infection, illness, diet, prolonged use of antibiotics or elevated stress levels.
While a healthy microbiome helps protect against pathogens and disease, changes in it are associated with conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, food allergies and neurologic disorders. Understanding the gut microbiome is key to helping us understand how we can treat and prevent these conditions.
How is the gut microbiome used to treat disease?
It’s an exciting time as we explore how we can use the gut microbiome to individualize treatments. One example is using fecal microbiota transplantation to treat Clostridium difficile (C. diff). In a healthy digestive tract, there are thousands of bacteria, most of which are harmless or helpful to digestion. However, antibiotic treatment often kills good bacteria in the colon, which can lead to an imbalance in bacteria. When bad bacteria take over, C. diff infection results, which can lead to fever, diarrhea, and cramping. It can become a severe – even fatal condition – without effective treatment.
With fecal microbiota transplantation, feces are collected from a healthy donor and introduced into a patient’s gastrointestinal tract. This can be done using multiple methods, including a tube, colonoscopy or enema. Recent clinical trials are also examining capsule use for transplant. Adding healthy bacteria to a patient’s intestines can help restore balance in the microbiome, eliminate infection and reduce the risk of it returning.
NorthShore University HealthSystem continues to study how the gut microbiome can play a role in developing disease as well as how it can be used to treat it. To learn more, visit us online or call 888-364-6400.