New Study Shows Some Foods Can Really Act as Medicines

Forest Rohwer and Lance Boling SDSU microbial ecologist and viromics research pioneer Forest Rohwer with molecular biology research associate Lance Boling. Photo: SDSU

Researchers at San Diego State University proved that foods we eat commonly affect our gut microbiome.

More specifically, it appears that compounds in these foods are triggering the production of bacteriophage - viruses that infect and replicate inside bacteria.

Researchers tested foods and ingredients known to have antimicrobial effects, including honey byproducts, licorice, stevia sweetener, aspartame, Tabasco sauce, oregano, cinnamon, clove, rhubarbs, bear berry, neem extract, and toothpaste. When examining growth curves of bacteria, they observed that while bacteria multiply over time, eventually their numbers plateau. However, when exposed to these antimicrobial foods, phages are activated and bacterial growth not just stops altogether, but their numbers drop dramatically until they're depleted.

The most potent antimicrobial foods for triggering phage production were determined to be Tabasco sauce, honey byproducts, stevia, aspartame, neem and bear berry. Because some of the products that act as reductive modulators by inducing prophages are surprisingly common ingredients (e.g., aspartame, toothpaste), diet-induced prophage activation is likely a regular occurrence in the gut ecosystem.

"We also found some foods acted as phage inhibitors and could be used to control pathogenic viruses," said Lance Boling, an SDSU molecular biologist and research associate.

"This shows we could sculpt the human gut microbiome with common dietary compounds," added Forest Rohwer, an SDSU microbial ecologist and pioneer of viromics research. "The ability to kill specific bacteria, without affecting others, makes these compounds very interesting."

Recent studies showed that our gut microbiome can affect cognitive ability, metabolism, weight gain or loss, our moods, and even cause depression. It can also cause inflammation that could lead to cancer, diabetes, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Using just food as medicine to correct such imbalance seems like an amazing option.

 

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