Science Questions

Could you grow better gut flora?

Tue, 15th Apr 2014

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Question

Kevin Fitch asked:

I was wondering if there are times when diet is more important than other times. In particular I am on antibiotics for strep at the moment. The doc gave me the usual talk about killing both good and bad bacteria...

 

So was wondering, if I were to eat something like a Spinach-and-Yogurt diet for a week after the antibiotics, could I cultivate a beneficial gut ecosystem that would have longer term (months/years?) health benefits?

 

Basically, does decimating my gut microbiome give me an opportunity to recreate it better than before?

 

Kevin Fitch

Maryland, USA

Answer

E. coli bacteria

Chris - Kevin, itís very interesting you raised this because weíre just at the stage now where we can begin to answer these sorts of questions which are really important, but it dawned on people about 10 years ago that when we look at the human genome, weíre ignoring at our peril something which is orders of magnitude more complicated which our metagenome.  In other words, the genetic contribution made to our health and well-being by the millions and millions of bacteria that live on us and in us.  They're all lending us their genetic know-how and they contribute to our health, every bit as much as our own DNA does.  When we take antimicrobial agents like the antibiotics you took for Streptococcal throat infection, then this does wipe out many populations of those microbes that naturally live in your intestines and it upsets the balance.  What the consequences of that are, varies from person to person.  What the long term consequences are, at this stage, we donít really know.  But now, scientists are in a position to answer those sorts of questions because we have very powerful DNA technology today that we didnít have 10, 20 years ago.  Itís now perfectly possible to take samples from individuals, before, during and after antibiotic therapy which is what scientists have now been doing to read the genetic sequences in there and work out what the genetic fingerprint of the microorganisms that live in someoneís intestines and on their skin are.  And then to see what impact taking antibiotics has on those microbial populations.  The evidence is that it makes a very big difference and thereís some evidence that it makes an indefinite difference.  In other words, once youíve taken antimicrobial agents, then some bacteria disappear for good from your intestines and that may have a health consequence.  For instance, there are microbes that get lost which breakdown a chemical called oxalic acid.  Oxalic acid contributes to kidney stones and itís interesting that people tend to get kidney stones once they reach middle age.  And by middle age, theyíve also had a certain number of doses of antibiotic drugs which makes them much more likely therefore to have wiped out that particular population of bugs.  So, it might be that in the future, what we do is either build better antibiotics that are kinder to our native intestinal bugs and leave them alone while treating bad bugs or it sounds rather unpleasant, but what we may end up doing is basically banking samples of what lives inside us.  And then periodically feeding them back to ourselves to keep our gut microflora in tiptop condition because we know that thatís really critical to be healthy

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There are many foods and interactions with various drugs.  If there is something specific about your antibiotics, your doctor should tell you what to avoid. 

For example, doxycycline is an antibiotic that interacts with milk, calcium, and mineral supplements. 

Alcohol interacts with a number of pain killers and sedatives including acetaminophen (Tylenol).  However, imbibing in extra Ethanol is considered a treatment for Methanol poisoning. 

Leafy Green Stuff (Vitamin K) interacts with Coumadin. 

As far as post antibiotic therapy, you may look for probiotics.  I think many people like yogurt.  Raw unpasturized???  However, there may be more probiotics to consider.

There have been experiments of a "fecal transplant" for the treatment of clostridium difficile which is supposed to remarkably improve the cure rate for that one particular organism.  Apparently there is current research on delivering the fecal bacteria in a gelatin pill form rather than going up the other direction.  Clostridium difficile is a specific gut bacteria, so that therapy wouldn't be required after say treating a toothache, although perhaps the future will bring better gut bacteria balance as part of many different therapies. 

Apparently a future study being considered might also be using fecal transplant as part of a treatment for VRE. CliffordK, Sun, 13th Apr 2014

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