When people get sick, what happens to their gut bacteria? Does their microbiome become weaker like the rest of their body? A recent study led by a group at the University of Chicago and published in Nature found that in mice, the intestines begin producing a specific type of sugar, fucose, to keep the bacteria in their guts healthy when the rest of their body becomes ill.
To observe this occurrence, the team of scientists exposed different sets of mice to a molecule that causes them to get sick, simulating infection. When the first set of mice was given this molecule, fucose was quickly and abundantly produced in their intestine. When the second set of mice, mice that were bred to lack a specific gene (Fut2) that allows them to produce fucose, was made to become sick, the mice recovered from the illness much slower than the mice able to produce fucose.
This study showed that these sugars keep the microbiome healthy when its host gets sicks and help the host recover faster. What does this mean for humans? Do we too produce this sugar when we become sick?
Unfortunately, approximately 20% of humans lack this important gene for producing fucose and these same people have been associated with a higher incidence of Chrohn’s disease. In this study, the gut microbes of the mice engineered to lack the gene for creating fucose had greater harmful bacteria in their gut than normal mice. It is likely that the production of fucose in our bodies not only helps feeds our healthy bacteria, but it also helps stave off potentially pathogenic bacteria from proliferating.
This important interaction may lead to new therapeutics that directly influence the microbiome. So remember, always 'feed' your cold.