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Gut bugs affect overall health, and serve as individual microbial fingerprints

The microbial population of our gastrointestinal tracts is a hot topic these days, with researchers regularly making new discoveries as to how the state of the bugs in our bellies affects our overall physical and mental health. Studies over the past 20 years have shown links between gut health and areas including the immune system, cancer, mental health and skin conditions.

The meals we eat don’t just quell our hunger – we’re also feeding the trillions of bacteria that inhabit our colons. These microbes are key players when it comes to ensuring we get the calories, vitamins and minerals we need, also helping improve digestion and retain immunity to illness. Our microbiomes – the name for our personal community of gut microbes – can be as unique in their composition as our fingerprints.

One new study says eating too much sugar can have a negative impact on some of the most important microbes in the gut. Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta for short) is a species of bacteria that typically thrives in individuals who eat fibre-rich diets and maintain healthy weights. Far fewer of these bacteria tend to be found in people who are overweight or obese. The study’s authors – microbiologists from Pennsylvania State University and Yale University – found that exposure to fructose and glucose stopped the bacteria from producing a key protein that helps it to colonize the gut.

Another recent study finds that the very first bacteria introduced into our guts as infants and the order in which they arrive can have life-long implications – both positive and negative – when it comes to our ability to fight chronic disease. All of the factors that shape individual microbiomes aren’t yet known. Genetics, lifestyle, environment and physiological state and diet make up a combined 30 per cent of the variation of the gut microbiome, but other contributing factors remain to be determined.

Maybe you take probiotic supplements or eat foods rich in probiotics as your own way of doing a good thing for the microbes in your gut. It turns out that it’s harder to change your own microbiome than you might have thought. There are many studies into the potential benefits of probiotics, but a recent one found there were few benefits to taking probiotic supplements – with study participants who took a placebo faring better than those who took a supplement when it came to re-establishing gut microbial communities after a round of antibiotics.

There’s still much to learn when it comes to our microbiomes, but it’s clear that the community of bacteria in our gut can have significant, ongoing impact – both positive and negative – on our overall health and wellness.

While our tools aren’t meant to help map the gut microbiome, research related to microbes is an area of interest of ours at LuminUltra and we’re always watching for the latest developments. Through our recent acquisition of InstantLabs, we now offer rapid, point-of-use solutions for managing specific microbes and best-in-class Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) testing services for identifying all microbes in a sample. These DNA-based tools can identify nearly all bacteria and archaea. Over time, we’ll also be able to show the cause-and-effect relationship of certain microbes, identify trends and provide an understanding of triggers. Contact us today to find out more. We’d be happy to answer your questions.

Stacey Pineau

Clearly explaining complex topics has been Stacey’s focus for close to 25 years now. She helps plan how best to reach the right people, then works to provide them with relevant information that’s easy to understand. Stacey is a team player with an entrepreneurial spirit. She has broad experience that spans the private and public sectors. A lover of words, Stacey has a slightly irrational love of the library and a personal collection of way too many books and magazines. She lives in Fredericton with her husband Ray, their two children and dog Scouty.

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