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  • Posted June 21, 2024

Robust Gut Microbiome Can Help You Fight Infections

The bacteria colonizing your bowels play a key part in your risk for infection, new research shows.

A study of more than 600 people hospitalized with infections found their microbiomes had fewer bacteria that were able to produce a beneficial fatty acid called butyrate. 

The bacteria make butyrate as they digest the fiber people eat. It's been shown before that people fighting serious infections have fewer of these bacteria. 

Butyrate also has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the immune system in mice, but it wasn't clear whether the same was true in humans.

"We didn't know whether the less healthy gut flora is due to the acute infection and its treatment or whether they have always had less of the butyrate-producing bacteria in their microbiome," said study co-author Bob Kullberg, a doctoral student at Amsterdam University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "The study now answers this chicken-and-egg question."

Researchers analyzed stool samples from more than 10,000 people, zeroing in on 16 bacteria that make butyrate. 

During the study, 602 people were hospitalized. 

"We saw that in people who have 10% more of those bacteria in their gut, the chance of getting an infection decreases by as much as 15% to 25%," Kullberg said in a medical center news release. 

That means the microbiome plays a part in infections beyond the gut, such as bladder or lung infections. Researchers considered factors such as age, history of antibiotic use and underlying diseases, all of which can affect the balance of bacteria in the gut.

The results of the study were published June 20 in The Lancet Microbe journal.

The researchers said their finding emphasizes the importance of a healthy microbiome. It also paves the way for predicting a person's risk of infection and possible interventions.

"Follow-up research is needed to find out how we can increase the amount of butyrate with diet or probiotics, in order to prevent serious infections," said study co-author Dr. Joost Wiersinga, chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the medical center.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more on the microbiome and human health.

SOURCE: Amsterdam University Medical Center, news release, June 20, 2024

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