In my office, one of the methods I always mention for helping improve overall health is boosting gut health.
I’d be willing to guess many of you reading this have probably learned over the past few years that the health of your gut is linked to your total health.
It’s why getting good bacteria, known to improve gut health, into your body is so popular now.
Understandably, most people associate improved gut health with less gas and bloat.
And that’s a correct association to make. Plenty of Americans who have improved their gut health find their stomach feels better and they break wind a lot less. Many of their spouses notice this too. 🙂
The cool thing about probiotics and gut health is they really are powerful enough to improve your total health.
So powerful in fact, that researchers believe that if you can correct imbalances of bad bacteria in your gut, it may even help you fight cancer.
Researchers at the University of Chicago, IL, wanted to see how gut health and the treatment of melanoma (the most dangerous and aggressive form of skin cancer) were linked. While melanoma only accounts for 2% of all skin cancers, it is responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths.
To make the association between a healthy gut and the decrease in risk of death from cancer, the researchers studied people who were being treated with immunotherapy, which is a newer form of cancer treatment where a person’s immune system is “unblocked” or ramped up in an effort to kill cancer.
Part of the reason cancer is so deadly in the first place is it has the ability to “hide” from your immune system.
Cancer in its most basic sense, is nothing more than a series of damaged cells growing out of control inside your body.
Typically, your body’s immune system is able to stop damaged cells from spinning out of control by patrolling the body, finding the cells, and then neutralizing them.
Cancer cells are able to bypass the immune response by “hiding” from the immune system. By hiding, they remain unchecked and then can grow out of control. However, immunotherapy, specifically a type of therapy called anti-PD-1 immunotherapy, blocks cancer’s ability to hide from the immune system.
Researchers have noticed in their observations that immunotherapy doesn’t work in everyone.
But, in a recent study, they came to find that those who respond best to it seem to have the highest levels of good bacteria in their stool.
In a summary of the study, we find:
For the new study, the scientists tested stool samples from 42 people before they underwent immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma. They used three different methods to analyze and identify the gut microbes in the stool samples.
Most of the patients (38) were treated with anti-PD-1 drugs such as nivolumab or pembrolizumab. The remaining patients (4) were treated with a related drug called ipilimumab, which is an anti-CTLA4.
The results showed that the patients who responded to their immunotherapy had higher levels of eight species of bacteria — the “good” bacteria — in their stools.
Also, the people who did not respond to the treatment had higher levels of two species of bacteria — the “bad” bacteria. Those who had a higher ratio of good to bad bacteria all responded to the treatment, and their tumors shrank.
What was fascinating is after this portion of the study, they took the good bacteria from patients who responded well to the therapy and put them in germ-free mice. After 2 weeks of incubating that bacteria, they transplanted melanoma tumors into those mice.
In 2 of the 3 mice, the tumors ended up with slower growth.
The same process was completed in 3 other mice, except this time it was with the gut bacteria from the people who didn’t respond as well to the therapy
In this case, only one of the mice had slowed tumor growth.
“In addition, the team found that anti-PD-1 treatment only worked in mice that received gut bacteria from the responding patients.
The researchers are already moving forward with the work. They now want to test whether or not probiotics might boost immunotherapy and are planning a clinical trial using Bifidobacteria.
They also want to produce a longer list of the gut bacteria that help and hinder cancer patients and work out how the microbes interact with the immune system’s ability to control cancer.
‘Our results strongly suggest that the microbiota is a major factor, a gatekeeper for the immune response against a tumor. Without microbial support, the immune response just never quite gets going.’”
So what does this tell us?
Well, it doesn’t indicate that a healthy gut is a cure for cancer, that is certain.
On the other hand, it does show that beyond just helping you feel better in the short term, your gut health is definitely linked to better total health.
With that in mind, you should do all you can to improve your gut health. This includes eating fermented foods as well as avoiding foods shown to damage gut bacteria.