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Gut Microbes: From Bugs to Drugs

Spring has finally arrived! With the new season, it’s time to start thinking about how you can add new healthy habits to your daily routine.

This last month I read a very interesting article(1) by Dr. Fergus Shanahan – the chairman of the Department of Medicine/Director of Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork in Ireland. His research interest is in the area of the intestinal immune system and the way in which intestinal bacteria interact with the intestinal immunity.

The title of the article is: “Gut Microbes: From Bugs to Drugs.”

Dr. Shanahan starts by pointing out how the scientific community had been misled for decades with their efforts to determine the cause of stomach ulcers. In the 1970s, discoveries revealed that peptic ulcer is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori(2). Instead of the standard practice of operating on the stomach to reduce the acid production or by giving medications to lessen acid output, peptic ulcers are now cured with antibiotics!

Recently, discoveries revealed that cervical cancer is caused by a virus, and now there is a vaccine to prevent this cancer(3) as well.

The point is that the solutions to a number of chronic human diseases will come as we gain a better understanding about how the bacteria and viruses in our environment interact with the cells in our body.

For example, new research on the cause of Crohn’s disease has discovered a genetic mutation in affected individuals(4). This mutation causes the intestinal immune cells to produce an excessive immune response to normal intestinal bacteria. This inappropriate reaction results in the development of inflammatory bowel disease.

Recent studies using probiotic bacteria, like those in EndoMune, have discovered how these bacteria can down regulate the immune response that occurs in Crohn’s disease.

Segments of intestines that have been surgically removed from patients with Crohn’s disease have been cultured with certain Probiotic bacteria. These bacteria release messenger proteins that inhibit the immune mediated inflammation in the lining to the intestinal segment(5).

The goal would be to develop a strain of bacteria or isolate the messenger protein that could then be used as a safe, essentially natural therapy for Crohn’s disease.

Dr. Shanahan suggests that studying how our diet, intestinal immune cells and intestinal bacteria interact can potentially lead to new drug therapies for intestinal disorders like irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease and even colon cancer.

The Implication for Future Cures

Dr. Shanahan believes that the future pharmalogic cures for intestinal disorders will come from studies on how to manipulate our intestinal bacteria with diet and probiotics. He uses the term, pharmabiotics, to refer to “any material with a potential health benefit that can be mined from the host-microbe-dietary interactions.”

An example of a pharmabiotic is ‘bacteriocin’ which is a protein produced by certain strains of bacteria that acts as an antibiotic. One strain of Streptococcus produces a bacterocin that suppresses the bacteria in the mouth that causes halitosis or bad breath.

Another bacteriocin that belongs to the family called ‘thuricin’ acts as a strong antibiotic against a bacteria called Clostridia difficle. This bacteria can cause life threatening colitis. The hope is that this chemical can be developed as a drug to use against Clostridia difficle as this dangerous bacteria is becoming resistant to the currently available antibiotics.

Research in the area of probiotics has produced a number of very interesting and potentially new therapeutic options for dealing with some chronic human illnesses.

As Dr. Shanahan titled his paper, the idea is to find “drugs from bugs.”

Reading this article provides new understanding how ongoing research is identifying the biologic benefits of probiotics. I am amazed how often someone tells me that EndoMune has made such a difference in his/her life!

Take Home Message

Probiotics can suppress harmful bacteria and down regulate intestinal inflammation. Consider EndoMune Advanced for adults or EndoMune Junior for children to help improve gastrointestinal function and ease intestinal symptoms.

Eat healthy, exercise and live well!
Dr. Lawrence Hoberman

(1) Gut microbes: from bugs to drugs.Shanahan F. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010 Feb;105(2):275-9. Epub 2010 Jan 12

(2) Helicobacter pylori’s unconventional role in health and disease. Dorer MS, Talarico S, Salama NR.PLoS Pathog. 2009 Oct;5(10):e1000544. Epub 2009 Oct 26

(3) HPV vaccination: the beginning of the end of cervical cancer? – A Review.Lepique AP et al. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. (2009)

(4) The genetic basis of inflammatory bowel disease.Cooney R, Jewell D.Dig Dis. 2009;27(4):428-42. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

(5) Lactobacillus casei downregulates commensals’ inflammatory signals in Crohn’s disease mucosa.Llopis M, Antolin M, Carol M, Borruel N, Casellas F, Martinez C, Espín-Basany E, Guarner F, Malagelada JR.Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009 Feb;15(2):275-83.

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