Strains of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut may provide some protection against cancer
The human body harbours around 10 trillion bacteria, some of which are ‘good’ and some are bad. Evolution has moulded many strains to live in relative harmony with our body, and some provide us with beneficial compounds in return for nutrients and energy. Indeed, one of the major drawbacks of a poor diet could be its influence on our gut microbiota – causing dominance of harmful, inflammatory strains. New research has demonstrated that a particular strain, lactobacillus johnsonii, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
What did the research discover?
Lactobacilli are generally considered to be beneficial bacteria, and are ound in fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut. After isolating one of the more prolific strains within this group, lactobacillus johnsonii, they used it to study a mouse model of ataxia telangiectasia (ATM). ATM is a neurological disorder that leads to increased cancer incidence due to dysfunctional DNA repair. They gave ATM mice either the anti-inflammatory strain, or a mixture of strains including inflammatory varieties.
The research team found that in mice with higher levels of anti-inflammatory bacteria lymphoma actually took longer to develop, and in mice given only lactobacillus johnsonii lymphoma took twice as long to grow. The anti-inflammatory group also lived 4 times longer in comparison to the others and suffered reduced DNA damage. When they analysed these mice further they found they had high levels of beneficial metabolites being churned out by these bacteria and even had more efficient fat and oxidative metabolism.
“Together, these findings lend credence to the notion that manipulating microbial composition could be used as an effective strategy to prevent or alleviate cancer susceptibility. Remarkably, our findings suggest that composition of the gut microbiota influence and alter central carbon metabolism in a genotype independent manner. In the future, it is our hope that the use of probiotics-containing supplements would be a potential chemopreventive for normal humans, while the same type of microbiota would decrease tumor incidence in cancer susceptible populations”
While this particular strain is far from the only ‘good’ bacteria around, the research is an excellent indication of how important your microbiome is for reducing risk of multiple diseases. Measuring levels of bacteria is now relatively easy and non-invasive, so deliberately increasing levels of helpful bacteria could soon be an additional anti-cancer strategy.
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