I think we can all agree by now that bacteria play an essential role in our gut health. But have you ever wondered just how complex the relationship really is? Sometimes the microbiome can seem like outer space—vast, far-reaching, and difficult to study. If you haven't wondered about it, that's okay, because a group of researchers from King's College London have been thinking about it for months. They just published a new study that shows it's not just the bacteria in our intestines that promote health, it's also the metabolites and compounds they create and interact with. This larger structure is called the metabolome—and it's a pretty big deal.
What could be more important than the microbiome?
Besides having a name that sounds important, the metabolome represents a concept even larger (and more difficult to grasp) than the microbiome. Basically, the beneficial bacteria in our gut also produce a number of metabolites and compounds (like amino acids) that affect our immune system, nervous system, and metabolism.
In this study, researchers put mice on common strains of antibiotics and completed both microbiota and metabolome profiling to gain a better understanding of the changes that occur with antibiotic use. Using some super-advanced techniques (like nuclear magnetic resonance and next-generation sequencing) they found the expected changes in gut bacterial diversity but also disruptions in specific amino acids that are linked to illnesses like type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease.
Gut health is even more complicated than we realized.
We've known for a long time that antibiotics can have detrimental effects on human health, but this study asks the questions why and how? Because despite the fact that antibiotics are used all the time, we don't really understand how much they impact our health and how long the damage will last. These researchers want us to consider the idea that changes in the metabolites of these beneficial bacteria may prove to be more important to our health than the loss or gain of the actual bacteria themselves.
Basically, this study zooms out to look at the full picture of our gut health and the consequences of antibiotics. And so from now on when we talk about dysbiosis and the microbiome we have to consider that these metabolites and compounds are the link between our gut bacteria and our overall health.