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Researchers Link Decreased Gut Microbiome to Everyday Chemicals


Scientists began studying the gut microbiome more extensively in recent years and found that household chemicals decrease diversity. A team of researchers found a reduction in beneficial fungi and bacteria in the gut of children exposed to harmful chemicals.

This groundbreaking research was published on November 2, 2020 in Environmental science and technology charts. Lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Washington State University Courtney Gardner and researchers at Duke University conducted this study.

The scientists hope their research will increase understanding of how semi-volatile organic compounds impact human gut bacteria. These compounds are commonly found in most indoor environments due to their widespread use in building materials, furniture, textiles, and other everyday products. Researchers believe that SVOCs can damage the gut microbiome and lead to a weakened immune system.

What is the gut microbiome?

Total microorganisms, which include bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and their genetic material in general, make up the microbiome. The microbes in our gut help with various bodily functions, including the absorption of nutrients for the regulation of the immune system. You may be surprised to learn that you have more bacterial cells than human cells; technically, you are more bacteria than human! Humans have around 40 trillion bacterial cells and 30 trillion human cells.

All of these microbes can weigh between 2 and 5 pounds, about the same weight as your brain. the gut microbiome it acts as a second organ and affects your health in many ways. A healthy intestine helps in the following body processes:

  • Breast milk digestion: some of the first bacteria known to grow inside the intestines of babies they are called Bifidobacteria. These bacteria digest the sugars in breast milk, which help the baby grow.
  • Digestive fiber: Certain bacteria digest fiber and they produce short chain fatty acids, which promote a healthy gut. Fiber can help prevent weight gain and diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Boost your immune system: gut microbiome helps your immune system respond better to threats. If you get an infection, healthy gut bacteria will communicate with immune cells to mitigate infectious cells. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can control how your body responds to infections.
  • Helping control brain health: Research in recent years suggests that the gut microbiome directly impacts nervous system, and therefore, mental health.

The beneficial gut bacteria can also help control your weight, prevent digestive disorders, improve heart health, and lower blood sugar. However, an unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to diseases like obesity, asthma, dementia, and more. Now that you know the importance and function of gut bacteria, let’s review the study mentioned above.

Study on Household Chemicals and Gut Bacteria

The researchers took measurements of ubiquitous semi-organic compounds in the blood and urine of 69 toddlers and preschoolers for the study. They then took fecal samples to study the children’s gut bacteria. The semi-volatile organic compounds they measured included the following:

  • phthalates, found in detergents, plastic clothing such as raincoats, shower curtains, and toiletries such as soap, shampoo, and hairspray
  • Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), found in stain and water repellent fabrics, carpet and furniture coatings, non-stick kitchen products, polishes, paints, and cleaners.

Unfortunately, most people are exposed to these chemicals in their homes every day by breathing air and dust particles. Children can ingest them when they crawl or play on rugs or by putting objects in their mouths.

After taking samples from the children, they measured the levels of fungi and bacteria in their gut microbiome. They found that children with higher levels of chemicals in their blood had a less diverse gut microbiome. Children with higher levels of PFAS in their blood showed a reduced population and a diversity of bacteria. Those with higher levels of phthalates showed a reduction in fungal populations.

The research team expressed concern about these findings.

Gardner said they found the connection between everyday chemicals and fewer gut bacteria to be very pronounced and concerning.

“These microbes may not be the main drivers and may have more subtle roles in our biology, but it could be the case that one of these microbes has a unique function, and lowering their levels can have significant health impacts,” he said.

Unfortunately, the researchers found that children with high SVOC levels in their blood also had other harmful bacteria in their gut. They found several types of bacteria that the gut uses to cleanse toxic chemicals. Called dehalogenation, bacteria have been used for bioremediation to break down chemicals such as cleaning solvents from the environment. However, scientists don’t normally find them in human gut bacteria.

“Finding increased levels of this type of bacteria in the gut means that potentially the gut microbiome is trying to correct itself,” Gardner said.

She hopes that the information gleaned from the study will improve human health in the future. Better diagnostic tools or probiotics may be available.

“While these data do not denote causation, they provide an indication of the types of organisms that may be affected by exposure to these compounds and provide a springboard for future research,” he said. “Gain a more holistic understanding of the interactions between man-made chemicals, gut microbiome, and human health is a fundamental step in the advancement of public health. “

Here are ten incredibly good reasons why you should add probiotics to your menu.

Final thoughts on the link between declining gut microbiome and everyday chemicals

Consumer advocacy groups lobbied for warnings about the dangers of our household cleaners and building materials. Companies may not have known the risks when creating these products, but now consumers have to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, these chemicals have the potential to interfere with our gut health and disrupt our natural microbiome.

In a recent study, scientists found that children who had high SVOC levels in their blood showed less diversity of gut bacteria. This means that they will have a harder time fighting disease and infection. The researchers hope that more options will be available in the future to increase the diversity and number of gut bacteria.


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