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Interactive Bacteria Chart

Friday, 08 June 2012 by

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The journal Scientific American in their June 2012 issue looked at the social network of the bacteria in our digestive tract and on our skin. As I have previously stated the role of our commensal bacteria as significant players in our health and function is becoming more and more understood. Whilst those of us involved

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It will be of no real surprise to know that the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is common. Around the world it is estimated that some 10-20% of the population suffer from it. This is not an inconsequential number, and apart from the miserable statistics, it comes with loss of function, misery, anxiety, pain, bloating, altered bowel habits and loss of quality of life.

Whilst a clear explanation of the cause remains somewhat elusive, there is an increasing acceptance that the relationship between the brain-gut axis, central nervous system, peripheral stress response, infection, dysbiosis, barrier defects, inflammation and immune imbalance play significant roles in the causation.

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Functional gut problems, such as those classified by the Rome criteria as IBS are a significant health problem for many people. The use of probiotics as a single or multiple intervention offers a potential route to resolution, but the data is as yet inconsistent and in need of further clarification. This is the opinion of a group from Thames Valley University in a recently published review.[1]

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The unfolding of bacterial homeostasis in the gut continues apace and with each new stone uncovered there are interesting pathways that provide avenues for exploration and explanation in the management of inflammatory bowel diseases and functional disorders.

A paper out in Science[1] has identified that the protein β-catenin has an important role to play in inflammation control (β-catenin is part of a complex of proteins that constitute adherens junctions (AJs). AJs are necessary for the creation and maintenance of epithelial cell layers by regulating cell growth and adhesion between cells) plays an important role in the management of mucosal tolerance.

β-catenin signalling promotes the induction of regulatory T (TReg) cells while suppressing T helper 1 (TH1) and TH17 cells in the gut by maintaining intestinal dendritic cells (DCs) in a tolerogenic state.

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As discussed here on many occasions it is well recognised that developed countries are suffering from an epidemic rise in immunologic disorders, such as allergy-related diseases and certain auto-immunities. One of the proposed explanations and one that I feel most convinced about is the changing composition of our intestinal microflora and parasite burden. Our intestinal ecological changes  appear to be altering our ability to manage appropriate immunomodulatory responses to various ingested and inhaled antigens.

The Proceedings of The National Academy of Science Journal published a paper this June 2010 exploring the differences in the microbial communities between those children on a western style diet and those from a rural African community whose diet reflected that of a the early humans – high in fibre.[1]

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The saying is ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’, or if you are English ‘what happens in Blackpool….’ but the same cannot be said about what happens in utero, as increasing evidence supports the understanding that the maternal nutritional environment and early feeding affects the health of the foetus beyond infancy and into adulthood.[1],[2] An article in Nature’s Mucosal Immunology this month explores some of the key events in foetal and neonatal immune management.[3] It stimulated a revisit to the area of what to consider for parents to be and mums of young children when they ask ‘is there anything I can do to prevent or reduce the risk of allergy or atopy in my child’.

The first moments, weeks and months of life can determine the health outcomes of an individual over the duration of their lifetime and this knowledge represents a significant choice for prospective parents. Fortunately the remarkable adaptability of the immune and central nervous system means that there are numerous opportunities in the early years of life to positively influence health outcomes even if the early stages were less than optimal.

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One in 10 schoolchildren in the western world suffers from eczema and even developing nations have also seen an increasing trend in the last few decades. There are many proposals to explain the increased incidence, one area of relevance is the environmental impact. Falling under the often misused ‘hygeine hypothesis’ title it has been proposed that there is a reflective difference in the gradient between rural and urban children. Implying the environmental impact on the developing immune system of children is different and therefore less protective in the urban setting.

This concept has now been studied in a recent article in the British Journal of Dermatology.[1] By conducting a Medline and Embase data base review studies that compared the incidence between the two environments were reviewed. Some 26 papers were assessed with 19 demonstrating a higher risk for eczema in an urbanised area, of these 11 were regarded as being statistically significant. A further 6 studies showed a lower risk of eczema in an urbanised area, of which just 1 was statistically significant.

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A trial to see if the ingestion of a probiotic bacterium enriched drink might have a beneficial impact on central obesity was funded by Snow Brand Milk Products company in Japan and the results were published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition this June 2010. [i]

Whilst it may seem a stretch that bacteria can influence our body mass, (I have written a previous review) it is an area of growing interest and investigation as bacteria have previously been implicated in the metabolic storage of fat. Studies in mice have shown up to 30% greater fat storage in mice with gastrointestinal colonies of commensals rather than their skinnier counterparts operating with sterile guts.

One proposal for this is that certain bacteria (Bacteroides Thetaiotaomicron is one likely contender) are able to manipulate energy to be stored in adipocytes through a pathway that involves microbial regulation of the intestinal epithelial expression of fasting-induced adipocyte protein (Fiaf), a circulating inhibitor of lipoprotein lipase (LPL).[ii]

The microbiota can then, based on this and other studies be viewed as a metabolic “organ” exquisitely tuned to our physiology and performing functions that we have not had to evolve on our own.

A Bacteria Triggers Arthritis.

Thursday, 01 July 2010 by | Comments: 2
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The gut microbiomes of humans and mice are broadly similar which is helpful as this paper has used the mouse model to explain how a resident bacteria in the gut can induce arthritis. In both hosts human and mouse upwards of ∼1000 different microbial species from ∼10 different divisions colonise the gastrointestinal tract, but just two bacterial divisions—the Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes—and one member of the Archaea appear to dominate, together accounting for ∼98% of the 16S rRNA sequences obtained from this site.[1] 16SrRNA is a laboratory method for analysing bacterial and provides species-specific signature sequences useful for bacterial identification but is not routinely used in diagnostic settings yet.

Their analysis revealed that despite the enormous species variation in the gut a single species of bacteria that lives here is able to trigger a cascade of immune responses that can ultimately result in the development of arthritis.[2] Gut-residing bacteria can also play a role in disorders of the immune system, especially autoimmune disorders in which the body attacks its own cells. The gut microbiota is now known to shape intestinal immune responses during health and disease with systemic effects.

What Do Bacteria Do To Our Immune System?

Thursday, 01 July 2010 by | Comments: 3
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The germ theory that has so modernised medicine and driven us, the western world living human to regard all bugs as bad has been undergoing a dramatic rethink over the last few years. Firstly the recognition that your body is teeming with bacteria, providing a warm residence to approximately 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells. Our mutual inhabitants live on skin, in the respiratory tract and throughout the digestive tract. Your digestive tract alone is home to between 1,000 and 40,000 bacterial species depending on your choice of journal.

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