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New findings: the pancreas controls the biodiversity of the intestinal bacteria
It has long been known that the bacteria in the gut have a significant impact on whether we stay healthy or get sick. Researchers have now found that the composition of the intestinal bacteria is controlled much more by the function of the pancreas than by any other known factor.
About 38 trillion bacteria live in the intestine
According to experts, 38 trillion bacteria live in the human intestine and these have a great impact on our health. A healthy intestinal flora makes an important contribution to protection against infections, allergies and various diseases. However, some intestinal bacteria can also promote obesity and even influence the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Researchers from Greifswald University Medical Center have now discovered that the composition of the intestinal bacteria is controlled much more by the function of the pancreas than by any other known factor.
Control of the biodiversity of the intestinal bacteria
"What surprised us very much is the strength of the effect," emphasized the director of Inner Clinic A at Unimedizin Greifswald, Prof. Markus M. Lerch in a message.
"The pancreas controls the biodiversity of the bacteria in the intestine much more profoundly than all previously known host factors such as age, gender, the type of diet or, for example, the intake of gastric acid blockers."
The results of the Greiswald working group were recently published in the journal "Gastroenterology".
More bacteria than body cells
As the experts explain, the human body not only consists of billions of specialized cells, countless microorganisms also live with us in it, usually in a peaceful and useful manner.
There are around 38 trillion bacteria in the intestine alone, significantly more than all of our body cells combined.
Since bacteria are much smaller than human body cells, these bacteria only weigh two kilograms.
Viktor van der Reis (1889-1957), an internist from Greifswald, pioneered the study of bacteria in all parts of the intestine as early as the 1920s.
Before the fall of the wall, microbiologist Prof. Hannelore Bernhardt even examined the intestinal organisms of cosmonauts. For this purpose, microorganisms were grown on petri dishes in incubators.
However, it is now known that more than 95 percent of intestinal bacteria do not reproduce at all when they are exposed to the air, but only grow in the intestine.
Diversity in the gut is good for your health
Due to the rapid technical development in investigations of the genetic material of bacteria in recent years, however, all microorganisms living in the intestine can now be identified.
It is now known that almost 40,000 different types of bacteria are at home there. How they are composed in terms of their type and quantity has a major impact on our health and is not only the cause of diseases in intestinal infections.
A particularly species-rich intestinal microbiome, as the group of microorganisms is called, has health-promoting effects and many diseases are associated with a decrease in the diversity or biodiversity of the bacteria in the intestine.
Conversely, there are also bacterial compositions that have been linked to a wide variety of diseases, ranging from diabetes and fatty liver to depression and Alzheimer's disease.
In diseases such as diarrhea caused by antibiotics (Clostridium difficile colitis), the replacement of the entire intestinal microbiome is even used therapeutically and can lead to healing.
Composition of the gut microbiome
But what determines the composition of the microbiome in the gut? On the one hand, the mixture of human bacterial species is inherited and can almost be seen as a personal fingerprint.
On the other hand, a two-week stay abroad in Vietnam or Mexico leads to major changes in the microbiome due to the different diet, which, however, quickly recede after returning to the familiar environment.
Other known influencing factors for the composition of the microbiome are the preference of eating, such as animal proteins or vegan food, smoking tobacco, alcohol consumption or certain medications.
Understand the connection between intestinal bacteria and digestion
A working group at the Greifswald University Medical Center, which specializes in diseases of the pancreas, examined whether and how this organ influences the microbiome.
For this purpose, the composition of the stool microbiome was analyzed by sequencing the bacterial genetic information (16S rRNA) in 1,800 subjects of the Greifswald health study SHIP.
In addition to many other factors, the researchers measured both the concentration of elastase, a digestive enzyme of the pancreas, in the stool, and the stimulated excretion of pancreatic juice in the small intestine using magnetic resonance imaging.
According to the information, a reduced concentration of elastase was linked to strong changes in the composition and biodiversity of the microbiome.
For example, there was an increase in the more harmful Prevotella bacteria and a decrease in the health-promoting Bacteroides species.
The influence of the volume of the pancreatic juice on the diversity of the bacterial strains was significantly less than the concentration of the digestive enzyme elastase.
"It is still unknown whether this effect is caused by peptide antibiotics, which the pancreas produces itself, or by a change in the digestive function," said the first authors of the work, Dr. Fabian Frost and Dr. Tim Kacprowski.
"In any case, this discovery represents a real advance in understanding the relationship between digestion and the gut microbiome," said Dr. Georg Homuth from functional genome research. (ad)