Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science claim to have found a direct link between a person’s gut microbiome — the diverse ecosystem of bacteria, viruses and fungi living inside each of us — and the progression of diseases previously thought to have no connection to the digestive system.
In a new paper published in Nature, a team led by Weizmann Profs. Eran Elinav and Eran Segal said it found that certain strains of intestinal bacteria may have the ability to slow down the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative neurological condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“Given increasing evidence that microbiome affects brain function and disease, we wanted to study its potential role in ALS,” said Segal. Experimentation with mice found “11 microbial strains that became altered in ALS-prone mice as the disease progressed,” one of which, Akkermansia muciniphila, “significantly slowed disease progression in the mice and prolonged their survival.”
The scientists subsequently isolated a compound known as nicotinamide (NAM) in Akkermansia muciniphila. Further investigation found that mice treated with NAM “improved significantly.”
“These findings are only a first step towards achieving a comprehensive understanding of the potential impact of the microbiome on ALS,” said Elinav, “but they suggest that in the future, various means of altering the microbiome may be harnessed for developing new therapeutic options for ALS.”
Recent years have seen an increase in research identifying the thousands of species that inhabit our bodies and interact in ways important for health, such as good digestion. Microbiomes start forming at birth and are different depending on whether babies were born vaginally or via C-section. And they change with age and different exposures, such as a course of antibiotics that can wipe out friendly bacteria along with infection-causing ones.