WBEZ | gastroenterology http://www.wbez.org/tags/gastroenterology Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Clever Apes: Another gut check http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-23/clever-apes-another-gut-check-95760 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-24/breast cancer_flickr_ginko lev.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Spotted on the wall at Rush's digestive diseases lab. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-23/Stool sample.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 444px;" title="Spotted on the wall at Rush's digestive diseases lab. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)"></p><p>So we just finished explaining how <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-17/clever-apes-24-gut-feelings-95602">the gut is our second brain</a>. How to top that? How about this: Your gut is its own planet.</p><p>The human intestine hosts an entire civilization of microorganisms – about 100 trillion by most estimates. That’s many times more than there are cells in your body. You may think you’re the center of your own universe, but in a sense you’re just a walking ecosystem for this teeming population of bugs.</p><p>The good news is, most of them are beneficial to us. Our intestinal flora help us digest food, excrete waste and even train our immune system. That is kind of old news, but only recently have scientists begun to uncover just how central a role our microscopic gut workforce plays in our overall health.</p><p>Here is one surprising connection – or rather, hypothesized connection: The gut flora <a href="http://www.physorg.com/news175953178.html">may have a hand in breast cancer risk. </a><a href="http://rush.photobooks.com/directory/profile.asp?dbase=main&amp;setsize=10&amp;last=mutlu&amp;Submit=Search%21&amp;pict_id=0005920">Dr. Ece Mutlu</a> of Rush University Medical Center is investigating this possibility. Click the “Listen to this story” button above to hear our interview with her.</p><p>It goes something like this: As the bacteria go through their little lives, eating and excreting, they produce many different compounds. Certain bugs are involved with hormones, specifically estrogen (listen to the interview to hear how Dr. Mutlu started thinking about this hint: it involves <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11351429">sewage treatment plants</a>). Some bacteria break down estrogen, some activate it. Depending on what food we eat, we might encourage the growth of some bacteria or suppress others. That in turn could lead to higher levels of estrogen exposure, which is known to increase the risk of certain kinds of cancers (at least in some people).</p><p>This is still in the early stages of study. But it’s a hallmark of the new ways in which researchers are thinking about the gut flora. Science in general is good at identifying correlations (say, diet and cancer risk), but often less good at teasing out the mechanism behind it – the reason why some environmental factor influences a disease or condition. The gut bacteria are becoming prime candidates to make a lot of those links.</p><p>I, for one, am becoming a bit fanatic about this subject, so expect more down the line. Meanwhile, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a> (so you won’t miss out on cool interviews like Dr. Mutlu), follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Mon, 23 Jan 2012 23:17:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-23/clever-apes-another-gut-check-95760 Clever Apes #24: Gut feelings http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-17/clever-apes-24-gut-feelings-95602 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-17/Gut Feelings image.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Scientists say the intestines are like a second brain. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/Gut Feelings image.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 409px;" title="Scientists say the intestines are like a second brain. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>In researching the human gut over the last few weeks, I’ve learned at least 10 things that have blown my mind. Here is one: Your intestines are your <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/health/23gut.html?pagewanted=all">second brain</a>.</p><p>The gut has its own nervous system – called the enteric nervous system – that is highly sophisticated and can basically think for itself. Columbia University neuroscientist Michael Gershon, who coined the phrase with his 1999 book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Second-Brain-Groundbreaking-Understanding-Disorders/dp/0060930721">The Second Brain,</a></em> says the gut can function just fine in a decapitated person. <img alt="Rush's Ali Keshavarzian with his colon model. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/web kesh.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 333px; float: left; margin: 10px;" title="Rush's Ali Keshavarzian with his colon model. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)">In fact, you can pull the gut out of someone, drop it in a nutrient bath in a lab, and it goes right on digesting.</p><p>In the last few years scientists have been discovering all kinds of surprising connections between the brain in your belly and the one in your head. Many neurological conditions also have gastro-intestinal components, though it’s never been clear why. The assumption has been that the brain disease causes the G-I problems, but scientists at <a href="http://www.rush.edu/rumc/page-1099611550726.html">Rush University Medical Center</a> are investigating a hypothesis that would turn that theory upside down.</p><p>It goes like this: Parkinson’s disease patients seem to have <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028032">unusually leaky intestines</a>, which let toxic materials, like pieces of gut bacteria, slip between the cells lining the intestines. It’s possible that this could inflame the nerves and cause a particular protein, called alpha synuclein, to fold up wrong. That in turn could trigger a chain reaction of misfolded proteins that travel up the nervous system, burning “like a slow fuse” up to the brain over the course of decades, eventually <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19686202">causing Parkinson’s disease</a>.</p><p>It’s still pretty speculative, but gut leakiness has now been linked with a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995297/">bunch of other neurological diseases</a>. In general, the gut and the trillions of bacteria that live there are turning up as strong candidates to account for correlations that have eluded explanation. <img alt="Drs. Stuart Johnson and Dale Gerding fight C. diff. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/web johnson.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 333px; float: right; margin: 10px;" title="Drs. Stuart Johnson and Dale Gerding are trying to defeat C. diff. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)">For example, scientists have long suspected that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC468678/">weight gain increases one's risk of breast cancer</a>, but the reason why has been mysterious. Stay tuned for more on why gut bacteria could be the missing link: We’ll post an interview in a couple of days.</p><p>Meanwhile, elsewhere in today’s episode we have a cautionary tale about what happens when we fail to respect the needs of our inner bug civilization. Antibiotics, in addition to killing infectious bacteria, also take a toll on our healthy gut biota, leaving room for an aggressive bug called <a href="http://www.shea-online.org/assets/files/position_papers/Cldiff95.PDF">Clostridium difficile</a>. It causes an absolutely miserable, sometimes lethal, hospital-acquired infection that is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. It’s bad enough that some have turned to a particularly stomach-turning therapy: <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=swapping-germs">fecal transplants</a>. Researchers at Loyola University Medical Center and the Hines VA in Maywood, Ill. are trying to save you from having to even think about that. We visit them and find out how.</p><p>Believe me, I could go on … but I’ll spare you for now. As always, subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/web forsyth.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="Chris Forsyth studies the gut's role in Parkinson's disease. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)"></p></p> Tue, 17 Jan 2012 21:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-17/clever-apes-24-gut-feelings-95602