Mix Of Gut Microbes May Play Role In Crohn's Disease | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Mix Of Gut Microbes May Play Role In Crohn's Disease

The particular assortment of microbes in the digestive system may be an important factor in the inflammatory bowel condition known as Crohn's disease.

Research involving more than 1,500 patients found that people with Crohn's disease had less diverse populations of gut microbes.

"[This] basically for the first time identifies what might be the bacterial changes in patients with Crohn's disease," says Ramnik Xavier, of Masssachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the work.

More than a million Americans suffer from Crohn's, which seems to start when an overreactive immune system causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, bleeding, weight loss and other symptoms. Many patients have to take powerful steroids (which can have serious side-effects), and some have parts of the digestive tract surgically removed.

Mounting evidence has suggested that microbes living in the gut might contribute to the problem. So Xavier and his colleagues compared the species of bacteria in more than 447 Crohn's patients to the mix of microbes in more than 221 healthy people.

In their paper published in the journal ­Cell, Host and Microbe, the researchers detailed the clear difference they discovered: The patients with Crohn's seemed to have too many of the sorts of bacteria that rile immune systems.

In addition to having less diversity in their gut microbes, Xavier says, the Crohn's patients had fewer bacteria that have been associated with reduced inflammation and more bacteria associated with increased inflammation. (The findings were confirmed in 800 Crohn's patients from other studies.)

Interestingly, children whose doctors had tried to treat their Crohn's symptoms with antibiotics before they were properly diagnosed had a mix of microbes that was the most out of whack.

"We may have to revisit the use of antibiotics in [these] patients with early-onset Crohn's disease," Xavier says.

Instead, doctors might eventually do better to identify and prescribe treatments that mimic the helpful bacteria, he says, along with foods or other pharmaceutical agents that reduce or counteract the harmful bacteria.

"There's the possibility that we might be able to identify [some] sort of super-probiotics that might be able to correct the gut back to the healthy state," Xavier says.

UCLA pathologist Jonathan Braun, who studies microbial ecology, says the paper offers important first insights into illnesses beyond Crohn's. "Other diseases are thought to be driven at least in part by bacteria," he says, such as some inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Bacteria may also be involved in obesity.

Humans should work harder to understand bacteria, Braun says, "and live with them when they're helping us, or get them to serve us better when they are causing harm."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Look, Mom, I Finally Made It To Broadway!

NPR's Michel Martin will sit down with a panel of award-winning playwrights to ask about diversity in theater. Follow here or join us on Twitter on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, using #NPRMichel.
NPR

Sweet: Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme Pump Up Pledge On Palm Oil

Two major doughnut chains have bowed to consumer pressure to better police their palm oil purchases. Environmentalists say it's a win for consumers, trees and animals.
NPR

Congress Quietly Extends The Budget — Past Election Day, Anyway

Since the GOP retook the House, the chamber once brought the country to the brink of a debt default and once shut down the government. But in election years, including this one, there's no such drama.
NPR

Look, Mom, I Finally Made It To Broadway!

NPR's Michel Martin will sit down with a panel of award-winning playwrights to ask about diversity in theater. Follow here or join us on Twitter on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, using #NPRMichel.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.