Great Gut Blog

The Relationship Between Gut Microbiota and Chronic Disease

Posted by Brad Dennis, Ph.D. on

The Relationship Between Gut Microbiota and Chronic Disease

The healthcare industry is currently facing challenges when it comes to the many chronic illnesses and diseases that no doubt have been making people ill for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, but which were only able to be diagnosed and treated in the age of more modern medicine.

Medical scientists theorized about the possible correlations between chronic diseases like allergies and asthma, obesity, IBD, Crohn’s, etc. by looking at the factors that caused them and by looking at the microbiome of the gut.

This theory starts from the idea that the gut microbiome in humans and animals is not structured randomly, and that it has changed over long periods of time through the interactions of the microbiota with the host organism to optimize the digestive system of that organism – in this case, us.

The early life period of a person is crucial when it comes to the establishment of their gut microbiome. This is the period in which a person’s immune system learns what is friend or foe, metabolic organs learn how much energy they need to save or spend, and when our brains learn to recognize people who are good or bad.

What causes the disruption of our gut microbiota?

The theory presumes that the development of our microbiota at a young age is disrupted by the modern lifestyle most of us lead, which causes a severe loss of important microbiota types. This loss of microbiota diversity in our guts could be the key to the appearance of many of the chronic diseases currently plaguing mankind.

The first important thing to know is that a large portion of our gut microbiota is inherited from our mother. When a baby is born, s/he will inherit the same microbiota as their mother. If their mother’s gut microbiota is unhealthy in some way, the baby’s will be as well. With this in mind, it becomes clear that it’s important for mothers to be cognizant of the health of their gut, and that it’s also important to nurture and support a baby’s microbiota in early life to help their digestive system develop in a healthy way. Breastfeeding is one way a mother can offer her child’s microbiota additional support because of the many micronutrients that have been shown to have a positive effect on the baby’s developing body and internal organs and systems, including the baby’s gut microbiota.

Second, as babies and children interact with people and the world around them, some bacteria gets transferred and mixed with the already-existing populations in their bodies. Babies can acquire good or bad bacteria from the people they come in contact with. This can of course be a big problem for them, as their microbiotic systems are still developing and thus somewhat vulnerable.

The effect of antibiotics

A big factor that affects our gut microbiota both as children and adults are our exposure to antibiotics. Apart from babies taking antibiotics directly, the exposure can start early as the mother takes these medications while still pregnant. There is also evidence showing that frequent antibiotic use by a mother even before pregnancy could contribute to babies having health issues.

This means that any antibiotic use by the mother could potentially have some effect on children, which is a scary thing, made all the more scary now that new evidence is showing that heavy and frequent antibiotic use can permanently damage our gut microbiota. In children, this means that antibiotics damage during their childhood will continue on as they grow into adults.

How the disruption of our gut microbiota affects our immune system

Because of the inheritance factor between mother and child when it comes to the gut microbiome, this disruption could easily span multiple generations and could result in some colonies of good bacteria “dying out” within a family and thus no longer passed on to future generations, and could be one reason many diseases and disorders occur frequently within a family. One of the health aspects that is most affected is immunology because we develop our immune responsiveness during our childhood.

All developmental biology, including immunology, depends on context. There is already lots of evidence that shows how both maternal and early life microbiota have very important parts to play in the development of our adaptive immunity later in life. There is also some evidence that indicates that interactions between adaptive and innate immunity could also be very important.

With less-inherited good microbiota, the total amount of interactions that some types of bacteria should have with innate immune elements will be reduced. This will create a completely different context for the development of important systems.

The early microbiota that gets developed while we are young has served as a key that controls how our innate immunity is developed. However, if this key changes, our immunity may remain unlocked forever and cause problems during the later stages of our lives.

For this to change, it would require many generations to change their own gut microbiome equilibriums naturally. This is why it’s so important for us to discover new methods for treating these disruptions and making the necessary correction on our own during our lifetime, instead of having to wait for it to happen generations down the road.  

What could the future bring

One of the important issues that needs to be explored more is what kind of role our gut microbiota has when it comes to immunological diseases. When a disease manifests, all of the microbial disruptions that are detected could be the consequence of that disease or they might, in fact, be one of the causes of the disease.

Given the fact that it’s difficult to examine individuals with such diseases and collect samples, scientists have turned to animal testing to determine pathological mechanisms and microbiota factors. These studies have helped us gain valuable knowledge about autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, but there is certainly more research that needs to be done to better understand the relationship between our gut microbiota and chronic illnesses and diseases.

By acquiring more knowledge about immunological development, we can discover the best ways in which we could intervene and offer support to someone’s gut microbiota. Some possible interventions include prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics, but in the future, there may be new medicines and protocols to help our guts.

Soon, we’ll start taking care of our gut microbiota in ways we never have before, not just for gut health, but also for controlling and reducing various diseases. However, this will require a lot of research and effort from medical scientists and immunologists. Here’s hoping for breakthroughs sooner rather than later!


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