In general, we are taught to believe that bacteria is a bad thing. They can cause infection, spread disease, and generally, make us miserable. Some bacteria can even be life-threatening. However, probiotics are becoming more and more a subject of study- the notion of ‘healthy’ bacteria that help our bodies, rather than hurt them. As it is, the body benefits from having a healthy array of ‘gut flora’ to help break down foods in the intestines. However, the benefits of gut bacteria go further than that. In fact, there’s some evidence that gut bacteria can help fight off cancer.
9. Gut Bacteria
The gut bacteria help our bodies to break down things our stomach and liver can’t process entirely on their own. Among these are dairy products, the fermenting of which results in the gassiness we have after eating them. Some of these bacteria can actually bolster our immune system, interfering with more harmful or infectious agents, or squeezing them out by competing with them for space and resources. Because of the roles bacteria play in our bodies aside from infection, there’s been some speculation on how we can better benefit from their presence in our guts, and elsewhere, for that matter.
8. The Skinny
According to researchers from the US and France, the bacteria in the digestive system sometimes referred to as gut flora, or the microbiome may interact with cancerous tumors during cancer treatment, causing them to shrink. Based on their observation of the microbiome in cancer patients, both groups of researchers came to the conclusion that the presence of certain bacteria, as well as a general diversity of the bacteria present, could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs. This is an important finding because it may possibly lead to better, more efficient, and perhaps less expensive tools with which to fight cancer.
Immunotherapy could be thought of as a ‘natural’ way to fight disease, though that is not entirely accurate. Essentially, it immunotherapy alters the immune system in some way to create more ideal situations to deal with infections. Activation immunotherapies involve boosting the immune system so that it is more alert and effective, while suppression immunotherapies do the opposite. In the case of cancer, the goal with immunotherapy is to stimulate the body into attacking the tumors; if this were to become widely successful, it would likely be a vast improvement over chemotherapy, which kills healthy cells along with cancerous ones.Related: 10 Powerful Cancer-Fighting Herbs
Along with the belief that all bacteria are bad due to their infectious nature, there is a sort of reverence for antibiotics as a go-to for every problem. While it’s true that antibiotics save lives every year, they’re not the only option for treatment, nor are they always the best option, either; bacteria can sometimes grow resistant to certain antibiotic treatments, especially if the full course of antibiotics is not taken as prescribed. However, antibiotics also have another drawback; they do not discriminate between good bacteria and bad bacteria, which means any dose of antibiotics is killing off good bacteria too.
5. The French Study
Researchers in Paris, France, studied about 250 patients who had lung or kidney cancer. For these patients, they took note of whether or not they had taken antibiotics recently. Antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections anywhere in the body treat bacterial presence everywhere in the body; therefore, even antibacterial procedures that were unrelated to gut health, such as dental infections, were recorded as a variable among some of the patients in the study. As it turns out, these unrelated infections, or at least the treatment of them, led to some significant differences among the patients in terms of study results.
Among the immunotherapy patients, those who had previously taken antibiotics for infections were more likely than those who had not to see the growth of tumors. For those who responded well to immunotherapy treatments, the biggest difference may have been the presence of Akkermansia muciniphila. This particular species was present in nearly 70% of the patients who did well with immunotherapy. By contrast, in those for whom immunotherapy proved less effective, A. muciniphila was only present in approximately one-third of the population. Similar trials with mice have yielded similar results, suggesting that A. muciniphila may work for cancer immunotherapy.
4. The American Study
A similar situation unfolded in Texas at the Anderson Cancer Center. In this case, 112 patients suffering from advanced stages of melanoma were the participants. Like their counterparts in France, the patients had their microbiomes examined along with the immunotherapy treatment. It was found that the patients who responded best to the treatment had a more diverse array of bacteria in their gut compared to those participants who had not responded to treatment. Ultimately, the evidence suggested that high levels of Faecalibacterium and Clostridiales helped with the immunotherapy; on the other hand, Bacteroidales species seemed to inhibit the immunotherapy benefits.
3. What’s Happening
According to tissue samples from the patients, there was a higher presence of immune cells in the tumors of people who had significant levels of beneficial bacteria. These immune cells were actively killing the cancer. In order to test this theory initially, sets of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria were transferred to two sets of melanoma-bearing mice. For the mice who received a diverse mix of bacteria including Faecalibacterium and Clostridiales, essentially, the ‘good’ bacteria, the tumors grew more slowly. This hindrance of tumor growth did not occur as prominently in the case of mice who received the ‘bad’ bacteria.Related: Tea That Kills Cancer Cells
2. What This Means
Based on the fact that the presence of specific bacteria, along with a more diverse microbiome in the first place, led to more effective immunotherapy results, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that a healthier microbiome creates a better foundation for immunotherapy treatments. A lack of diversity, perhaps caused by antibiotics, may hinder the success of immunotherapy treatments for cancer. This paves the way for encouraging not just a healthy microbiome, but one tailored specifically for facilitating anti-cancer activity from the immune system. This could revolutionize cancer treatments, certainly, but the applications could also be applied to other serious, difficult illnesses.
1. Final Thought
Even with this sort of advancement in cancer treatment, it is unlikely that the microbiome will solve all of our medical woes. However, a greater understanding of bodily processes will certainly do more harm than good. Some key things to consider are other factors that may cause individuals to respond differently to immunotherapy. This will require an in-depth study of the various bacteria that make up the microbiome. Identifying the role of each type of bacteria can lead to advances for numerous diseases. The potential is quite vast, and so far, it seems we have only scratched the surface.Related: 20 Things Science Has Linked to Cancer