It’s one thing you usually want to get rid of as soon as possible, but it may contain something we all need to stay healthy.
Researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina have discovered potent probiotic bacteria in the feces of infants that may be used to treat a variety of medical conditions and digestive problems.
These microbes were used by researchers to develop a probiotic “cocktail” that could help our bodies produce a substance essential for health.
The study findings were published online last week in the Nature publication “Scientific Reports.”
The scientists performed the experiments on mice and human fecal matter.
They said they found that a probiotic cocktail containing certain bacteria found in baby poop could help increase the body’s ability to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
“Short-chain fatty acids are a key component of good gut health,” Hariom Yadav, PhD, an assistant professor in molecular medicine at Wake Forest, and the study’s lead investigator, said in a press release.
Yadav added that “People with diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and cancers frequently have fewer short-chain fatty acids. Increasing them may be helpful in maintaining or even restoring a normal gut environment, and hopefully, improving health.”
Enhanced production of SCFAs
The research team collected and analyzed fecal samples from the diapers of 34 healthy infants.
They then selected the 10 best bacteria out of the 321 that were analyzed.
The scientists wanted to find out how human-origin probiotics can change the gut and the bacteria that live inside it.
So, the mice were given a single dose and then five consecutive doses of the bacteria cocktail.
Next, the researchers injected the same mixture, in the same doses, into a human-feces medium.
The findings indicated that the concoction enhanced the production of SCFAs in both mice intestines and human feces.
“This work provides evidence that these human-origin probiotics could be exploited as biotherapeutic regimens for human diseases associated with gut microbiome imbalance and decreased SCFA production in the gut,” said Yadav.
The researchers did concede the study was limited because the bacteria mix they used wasn’t tested in any disease models.
Gut bacteria influence more than digestion
SCFAs play a crucial role in digestive function.
They help shape the gut environment by influencing the physiology of the colon and are also used as an energy source both by cells lining the gut and the friendly bacteria that live there.
Research has also shown that SCFAs have anti-inflammatory effects and may play a part in how regulatory T-cells develop. These are the specialized cells that help optimize the immune system.
Dr. Razvan Arsenescu, chief of the Atlantic Digestive Health Institute and co-director of the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Center at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, told Healthline that “Our gut microbes not only regulate the gut, but also the function of other organs.”
Arsenescu added that “Studies in patients and animal models have established a link between the microbiome and anxiety or depression as well.”
SCFAs may even play a role in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
This could be because they favorably alter our gut environment or aid the immune system in a way that specifically reduces cancer risk.
Not just bacteria
Your colon is home to a dense population of microscopic organisms called the microbiome.
Their role is to ferment the sugars and proteins that aren’t absorbed in the small intestine during normal digestion.
It’s this fermentation process that creates SCFAs.
“Beyond bacteria, viruses and fungi are also parts of the gut community,” said Arsenescu. “However, we still have a limited understanding of their involvement in health and disease.”
Already being used
The bacteria found in feces are already being used to treat disease in a procedure called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT).
FMT, also called bacteriotherapy, is when feces are transplanted from one human to another.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the process has been successfully used to help people with a condition that can trigger debilitating bouts of diarrhea caused by the Clostridium difficile (C. Diff) bacterium.
Arsenescu added that “FMT has also shown promise for treating autoimmune conditions involving the gut and other organs.”
Mediterranean diet can help
Arsenescu says we can increase our SCFA levels by making some simple changes to our diet.
“A typical healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, which consists of several servings per day of fresh fruits, vegetables, and moderate consumption of dairy products, will help considerably,” he said.
Arsenescu recommends white meat from chicken or turkey as the healthiest animal protein sources for gut health.
“Wild-caught fish is better due to higher omega 3 fatty acids,” he added. “Additional healthy fatty acids can come from nuts and seeds. Walnuts in particular are a good source.”
Probiotics not ideal for everyone
A recent study published in the journal Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology found that probiotic use was associated with a type of cognitive dysfunction called “brain fog” in some people.
Brain fog can cause memory problems and affect concentration.
This side effect was resolved after antibiotics were given and probiotic use was stopped.
“The reports of mental fogginess have not definitely established causation versus association,” said Arsenescu. “There are many types of probiotics, which make it hard to establish a firm link.”
He explained that probiotics are just simplified cocktails of healthy bacteria.
They are designed as “one size fits all,” which isn’t always helpful.
Arsenescu recommends that “Probiotics should only be used after discussing it with a healthcare provider, as the type of probiotic chosen should be based on the best available science.”