Understanding Gut Microbiomes

Your gut is arguably one of the most important parts of your body.

It’s amazing how much activity takes place in your gut. It is in your digestive system that the largest war on bacteria is waged, and a lot of your immune activity is reliant upon the bacteria living in your gut. Your intestines also play a role in the absorption of the nutrients that feed every tissue, organ, and internal system in your body. No surprise that your gut is one of the most important parts of your body.

When treating health problems, it’s vital to understand just how important gut microbiomes (the beneficial bacteria in your intestines) are. They are what protect your body from invading pathogens and germs, regulate digestion, and so much more. Antibiotics that eradicate beneficial bacteria along with harmful ones may not be the best approach to treating health problems. Instead, as recent research suggests, it’s wise to tailor treatments according to the genetics of the individuals being treated.

A team of researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center have been studying the effects of tailored microbiome treatments. They studied the effects of antibiotics on three different strains of mice—two of which were closely related, and the third was more distant.

The research indicated that the antibiotics had very different effects on the gut bacteria of the mice. But the antibiotics didn’t just affect the gut bacteria, they also affected tissue inflammation, metabolic functions, and insulin sensitivity. The affects were different according to the mice’s genetic background.

One of the strains of mice studied were prone to obesity and diabetes, one prone to only obesity, and the third prone to neither condition. After being placed on high-fat diets, the mice were given two different medications: one that is easy for the body to absorb into the blood, and one that isn’t. Both of the medications had varying effects on the gut microbiomes. Among the obesity and diabetes-prone mice, the antibiotics reduced tissue inflammation, increased insulin signaling, and lowered blood sugar. Among the other two mice, however, there were no changes.

Understanding this could be the key to providing tailored approaches to healthcare. Once doctors understand that each person’s unique genetic makeup means they have a different composition of gut microbiomes, it will be possible to use different antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, and even transplants of microbiomes from healthy people in order to treat health problems. A good deal more research is needed on the subject, but it’s clear that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to treating health problems—particularly when it comes to problems that affect or are affected by the gut microbiomes.


1. Shiho Fujisaka, Siegfried Ussar, Clary Clish, Suzanne Devkota, Jonathan M. Dreyfuss, Masaji Sakaguchi, Marion Soto, Masahiro Konishi, Samir Softic, Emrah Altindis, Ning Li, Georg Gerber, Lynn Bry, C. Ronald Kahn. “Antibiotic effects on gut microbiota and metabolism are host dependent“. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2016; DOI: 10.1172/JCI86674.

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