Potential of Living Medicines
When talking about probiotics, many people think of Lactococcus lactis from cheese, or Lactobacillus casei from yogurt. And, although they are considered probiotics, we cannot limit the potential of this field with a narrow view of what is happening in our health.
In recent times the attention of all biomedical researchers in the world has turned to the microbiome because most metabolic diseases have or would have a direct implication with the genetic repertoire of our microbiota. Epithelial diseases, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and even Parkinson’s disease are diseases with close links, many of them still to be deciphered.
How harmful changes in the microbiome occur?
Dysbiosis is a major cause of illness and infection in humans. It can be produced for a wide variety of reasons, but in many cases knowing the status of our microbiome can be extremely useful in alleviating or curing the disease. But what happens to our microbiome under these circumstances of stress and pathogenesis?
The first thing that happens in dysbiosis is an ecological succession, which is exploited by better competitors to colonise previously inaccessible niches. These new members of intestinal biocenosis may be harmless, or they may further displace beneficial microorganisms; or worst of all, they may be pathogenic. In the latter case, the lining epithelium of the digestive tract becomes inflamed (due to the products of pathogenic and foreign metabolism), causing a multitude of discomforts and secondary diseases.
Some common examples
There are many viral particles that also cause dysbiosis, such as HIV or HBV, and end up causing the colonization of bacteria such as Clostridium difficile. C. difficile is a common bacterium among our microbiota, which is promoted during these episodes of intestinal change. There are strains that are more hostile than others, but in general, it can be concluded that it decreases the biodiversity of the digestive tract.
There are some other infectious diseases associated with proper microbiota balance, such as periodontitis and peptic ulcer. Recently the levels of H. pylori have been related to the progression of caries and of these species: Porphyromonas gingivalis, Prevotella intermedia, Fusobacterium nucleatum, and Treponema denticola.
But do not think it all comes down to two lines. There are many more infections that have to do with the weakness of the microbiota, such as bacterial vaginosis. However, it is not a question of focusing on this point and forgetting that there are still many more non-infectious diseases which have their origin in the microbiome.
The microbiome is directly involved in the appearance of severe liver disorders, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer and esophageal cancer. In addition, its alteration promotes metabolic disorders such as obesity, type II diabetes, asthma, allergies, autism, and major depression disorder. Moreover, some biochemical changes – derived from microbiome alterations; i.e. bacterial toxins release – have been addressed as a transcendent source of negative effects, like malnutrition and cardiovascular morbidity, which could lead to organ dysfunction. Chronic Kidney Disease (CDK) is just one example of many.
How to prevent it?
In many cases, it could be as easy as taking a pill of the most recommended probiotic for your case, especially if it is an intestinal alteration – whose global importance is of the first level since it is the most flagrant contact with the external environment in the human body -. Another alternative would be microbiome transplantation, for now, carried out by means of a stool transplant, which has proven to be highly successful even in cases of food intolerances and has been done for some years. However, there is an almost infinite number of possibilities that are not ascribed to gastrointestinal or derived diseases. For example, there are also probiotic creams capable of recovering your skin from injury or infection.
The magic of this lies in the ability of probiotics to compete with opportunistic species for the resources of their niche. This has a double effect, displacing the pathogen’s effective niche and physically protecting the niche from attack by others. However, probiotic ingestion could lead to many more benefits, as the microbiome-central nervous system-immune system axis is in continuous communication. It is possible to design probiotics to treat complex diseases such as cancer.
Current State & Start-ups
It is precisely this genetic design that opens the most doors in the market of the future, with established initiatives in this direction, such as ZBiotics. While most companies in the probiotics business find their target in nature, ZBiotics, for example, already has products capable of managing alcohol abuse by interfering with a toxic by-product generated by the consumption of this social drug.
Another way of understanding this field is SunGenomics, which designs its products based on your microbiome. That is, they sequence your digestive microbiome and give you a tailor-made product to improve your metabolic processes.
Honestly, we cannot understand the health of a human without the health of its associated microbiota. This is so as an evolutionary and ecological matter, so we are indivisible. Understanding this will provide us with rapid benefits in quality of life and longevity. Being one of the easiest ways for biotechnology to cure thousands of diseases without the need for antibiotics in some cases, it only remains to better understand the metabolic functioning of the microbiome in more complex diseases.