Do microorganisms hold key to future health cures?
HEALTH I wish to share excerpts from a series of Medscape articles that highlight how medical science is heading "south." Researchers through the Human Microbiome Project and other efforts have been looking at microbes in four major body habitats: oral-nasal cavities, skin, gut, and the urogenital area. This work has been undertaken to identify, classify, and categorize variations in human microbiota and answer two key questions.
- Can we predict disease by monitoring changes in the microbiome?
- Can we prevent disease by manipulating the microbiome?
Each individual's microbiome is composed of a diverse collection of microbial species that interact with each other and with their human host cells, contributing to and being affected by every normal and abnormal physiologic process that occurs in daily life.
Bacterial species from the oral and gut microbiota have been found in atherosclerotic plaques. Researchers hope to discover whether manipulating microbial species can affect the development and progression of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
Traditional thinking to fight infection has been to kill it with antibiotics. When that doesn't work, doctors use a bigger, "gun." In some cases, this has led to antibiotic-resistant strains and very ill patients who represent the war zone. In recent years, doctors have successfully used fecal transplants to treat refractory C difficile infection and probiotics to prevent C difficile infection.
Dermatological clinicians have noted the absence of immunomodulatory microbial species in psoriatic plaques. This suggests that loss of protective microbes may be as important as increased pathogenic microbes, and that restoring balance in the skin microbiota may be a therapeutic goal.
Research has shown that alterations in the gut microbiome can influence behavioral responses, including learning, memory, and stress response. The gut-brain axis has been implicated in proinflammatory immune responses in the central nervous system that underlie diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
As research progresses, the horizon offers the prospect of physicians treating and preventing major ailments various forms of probiotics. This does not mean that patients will be visiting YogurtLand for whatever ails them. Rather, replication, transplantation, or modification of good bacteria, may improve everything from gastrointestinal disease to dermatitis and mental health. It appears plant-based diets will also be given more serious consideration among health professionals.
Perhaps in the near future, the doctor who lubricates his gloved his hand may not just be your primary physician. Gastroenterologists, dermatologists, cardiologists, psychologists, and nutritionists are all looking for ways to make you A Bit More Healthy within the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms known as microbiome.
- Your Microbiome and You: What Clinicians Need to Know. medscape.com
- Human Microbiome Project. hmpdacc.org
- Probiotics: How Good Are These 'Good' Bacteria? medscape.com
- Study Finds Diet Alters Human Gut Microbiome. foodpoisoningbulletin.com
- David photography by Pedro José Pérez licensed from iStock Photo.