A case of overclaiming perhaps?

Freeze-dried bacteria from the guts of healthy people could be the key to tackling asthma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and even cancer, experts believe.

British scientists have isolated several strains of friendly bugs which appear to have significant effects on the immune system, and hope they could replace harsh chemotherapy drugs or steroids.

The first trials have now begun to see if introducing just a single species of bacteria in pill form could benefit a huge range of diseases.

The human gut contains trillions of bacteria – known collectively as the microbiome, which has evolved with us over millions of years. But the overuse of antibiotics and hyper-cleanliness in everyday life can kill off helpful bugs, contributing to the rise of disease.

A recent study by University College London (UCL) found that a single course of antibiotics can alter the microbiome for at least a year, and poor gut health is now linked to the development of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s disease, asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disorder (IBS), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, autism, cancer, and even HIV.

Duncan Peyton, founder and CEO of British company 4D pharma, which is launching the first trials into a new era of biotherapeutics, believes that replacing the missing bacteria could restore good health.

Perfectly willing to believe some of that. Asthma perhaps, it being an allergic reaction I think? Allergies. But HIV? Autism? Isn’t that last getting a little close to Wakefield’s silliness?

People with actual knowledge here are invited to inform the rest of us.

16 comments on “A case of overclaiming perhaps?

  1. The Wakefield silliness is based on a kernel of truth, like all good conspiracies.

    There’s some evidence of a link between autism and digestive problems (that go beyond gut bacteria actually).

    Personally I strongly doubt it’s a causation relationship but there’s probably some association (even if it means that autistic people are just less grumpy when they don’t have permanent stomach ache)

    No idea about HIV but possibly that’s something about associated symptoms of the condition?

    There probably is some over-claiming for this area of research but I think it would be fair to say it’s been realised it’s more important than we previously understood.

    E.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/12010627/

  2. That’s what clinical trials are for. To answer questions like this. Even if they seem silly.

  3. The gut has its own complex neural network communicating with the brain. Remember what it feels like to be hungry! Thoughts of food keep interrupting normal trains of thought.

    Gut flora produce peptides which act as neurotransmitters.

    The characteristic histology of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimers have been found in the gut of neurological intact people, are these precursors ?

    Beneficiaries of gut flora transplants from overweight twins become overweight on the same diet that previously kept them thin.

    As to allergies, inflammation allows otherwise innocuous proteins, which would normally be digested into amino acids before absorption, to cross prematurely into the blood stream, the immune system recognises them as foreign and initiates a response. Irritable bowel syndrome is often initiated after a single acute episode of diarrhoea. Is it a result of sensitisation to normal bowel flora or a consequence of a change in them?

    There are lots of questions, lots of suggestive findings but no good model to explain the gut/brain/general health interface. Now that technology has reduced the cost of identifying different bacteria, this is an interesting field to be in.

  4. The microbiome has taken that well worn scientific path. When it was first proposed those making the claims and carrying out early research were dismissed as cranks, if not heretics.

    As the scientific establishment started to die out and those with younger and more open minds took over and the research started to look promising it started too move in to the mainstream. A big breakthrough, in terms of PR and acceptance, appears to have been Robin Warren and Barry Marshall show that bacteria plays a key role in the development of stomach and intestinal ulcers. The award of a Nobel prize helped.

    Now there’s grants to be had, careers to be made and the promise of fame and fortune so all sorts of claims have to be made to persuade politicians to favour their research and let the public know their taxes are being put to good use.

    From what I’ve read and heard from serious scientists there is a lot of promise, It does look like its being oversold in terms of efficacy and timescales.

  5. ‘But the overuse of antibiotics and hyper-cleanliness in everyday life can kill off helpful bugs, contributing to the rise of disease.’

    Except people are living a lot longer. So this is false on its face.

    “Poor gut health and extreme old age is now linked to the development . . . .”

    FIFY

  6. Slightly off topic.

    Basically no animal can digest food without the aid of bacteria. Even the lowly termite ants have special bacteria that can turn dry grass into food.

    So, all these people that complain about farting cows miss the point, either the bacteria attacks the vegetation in the field or you shove it into a mobile bacteria container, aka as livestock.

  7. ‘But the overuse of antibiotics and hyper-cleanliness in everyday life can kill off helpful bugs, contributing to the rise of disease.’

    Given the disturbing number of people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet I question the use of the phrase ‘hyper-cleanliness’. Still, is this going to be the next Hipster Guardian thing to differentiate them from the Plebs – being deliberately dirty?

  8. Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disorder (IBS) seem to be alleviated by having a tape worm – BBC Dr Mosley

    .
    @Rob

    How do you wash your hands after peeing/pooing behind a bush?

  9. When you’re a lab rat, you quickly learn to wash your hands before you go to the toilet. It took years to get out of the habit.

  10. Jollygreenman, livestock browsing on grasses (especially, but all foliage to some extent) promotes growth, so if you leave a field ungrazed it will overtime decay and produce CH4 but less than if grazed. As a side-effect of course, the extra growth does absorb extra CO2.

    Anyway, CH4’s major sources aren’t animal based, it comes mostly from aboreal forests and cultivation of rice in waterlogged soil/water.

  11. ‘Duncan Peyton, founder and CEO of British company 4D pharma, which is launching the first trials into a new era of biotherapeutics, believes that replacing the missing bacteria could restore good health.’

    Forchristsake . . . It’s a press release. From someone in the business of selling gut bugs.

  12. Rob and Henry Crun:

    Under normal circumstances, human urine (and, likely that of
    other animals) is quite sterile.

  13. @gene berman

    +1 Furthermore, man pee was one thing added to water when washing clothes in C18. Also good for treating athletes foot.

    Factoid: there are ~1 billion bacteria on every square centimetre of human skin

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