By: Aeon Mapa
Three recent studies concluded that there are direct connections between the health of your gut microbiome and your body’s COVID response. These studies, conducted separately in India1 , Hong Kong 2 and in the UK 3 demonstrate the relationships between COVID and gut microbiota.
What Is a Gut Microbiome?
Our body contains trillions of microorganisms that live within our systems and perform certain fuctions. Good bacteria are found most notably in our digestive system. They form a tiny ecosystem within our gut, called the microbiome.4 Many studies over the past decade have shown that the healthier and more diverse our gut microbiome is, the more resilient the rest of the body becomes. Many diseases seem to be related to the health of this ecosystem giving rise to the opinion that ”all disease starts in the gut”. 5. Antibiotics and viruses take a toll on these organisms. Taking probiotic foods such as fermentation and cultures helps to boost and replenish their numbers. Keeping your gut microbiome healthy requires eating an organic, plant-based diet as the bacteria feeds on certain fibers and special sugars found in these foods. These are known as prebiotics.
Relationship Between Microbiome and COVID
The studies point out several direct and indirect connections between the health of our gut microbiome and COVID-19 infections. In these studies, stool samples were collected from the patients in order to measure the composition of the patient’s gut bacteria. These were some of the findings.
Depleted microbiomes, particularly in certain bacteria species were found in COVID positive patients. Imbalances also gave way to harmful bacteria & microbes in the gut. These led to several direct effects:
Loss of good bacteria made patients more susceptible to abnormal amounts of inflammation which can lead to severe symptoms, organ failure and death. This uncontrolled inflammation is known as a cytokine storm and has been linked to many COVID mortalities.
Patients would continue to show COVID symptoms if their microbiome remained depleted. They noted a particular decrease in the bacteria species that modulate inflammation responses in our bodies as mentioned above.
· It was emphasized that further research into this relationship could develop alternative treatment methods that would reduce both the virus’ length and severity. It may be possible that boosting the health of the gut microbiome can be the answer to preventing severe COVID symptoms. If we are able to bolster our gut bacteria to a point where our natural immunity can protect us, there would be no need for vaccines.
“In summary, “COVID-19 is with us for the long haul, a marathon that we will run for months or years to come” (59). Current studies and future work needs to specifically address and account for these potential sources of change. ”
The UK study was also able to point out several indirect affects COVID has had on our microbiomes which creates a few troubling circumstances. For example, the increased used of sterilization and sanitizers may have an effect on both personal and environmental beneficial bacteria populations. The reduction of transportation and social interaction also reduces the exchange of good bacteria amongst individuals. In tests it was shown that: “Pre-pandemic, international travellers had a higher proportion of Escherichia species and increased antimicrobial resistance genes ”
Reduced physical activity, food variety and quality also contribute to loss of diversity in our gut microbiomes. Finally studies are also beginning to show that there is a connection between psychological health and the gut microbiomes. These studies describe the gut-brain axis, and have exhibited that damaged gut bacteria can cause depression and anxiety. At the same time chronic mental and emotional distress results in issues in the gut. The stress that the lockdown is causing may well create a new epidemic of dysfunctional gut microbiomes which will lead to bigger problems in the future.
Microbiomes are present not only in our gut, but in our lungs, our blood, our brain and more. Outside our body they can be found in the soil, in water and in every place imaginable. Bacteria plays a bigger role in our lives than most of us realize. It is crucial that we understand how to nourish our good bacteria so that they can protect us from disease.
Organic Food Boosts Microbiome Health 7
Studies have shown that diverse, organic and natural food help to increase the health of your gut microbiome. Organic 8 produce was shown to contain higher amounts of healthy bacteria than those that were treated with pesticides. Organic fruits and vegetables are also richer in fiber and indigestible materials which serve as the food for the bacteria in your gut (prebiotics). 9
Additionaly, toxic residues have also proven to harm the gut bacteria, indirectly causing many adverse effects. 10
Given what we have learned here, we now know that keeping your gut microbiome healthy and happy is a sure way to reduce the severity and length of COVID infection. Eating organic food is also proven to be much better for your microbiome. Yet another way that organic produce can help you during this outbreak.