Composition of gut bacteria can determine the severity of an individual’s experience with COVID-19, a recent study has revealed.
Based on findings from the research, recovering from COVID-19 doesn’t mean that an individual’s run with the virus is over, as around 32 percent of patients experience long-term health issues from the virus.
The research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Gut, concluded that an individual’s gut microbiome (which is unique to each human being) might affect how the body responds generally, and suggested that it could play a role in the development of “long COVID.”
Study co-author and worker at the Department of Microbiology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Yun Kit Yeoh, emphasised that no two people have the same gut microbiome, but there are certain types of bacteria that everyone might expect to have.
“The study showed that patients with COVID-19 had higher numbers of certain bacteria, including Ruminococcus gnavus, Ruminococcus torques, and Bacteroides dorei.
“R. gnavus, for example, is a bacterium associated with inflammatory bowel disease.
“The samples from those with COVID-19 also had reduced numbers of other bacteria species than those without the virus.
“They had lower counts of Bifidobacterium adolescentis, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, and Eubacterium rectale. These species have immunomodulatory potential,” the researcher said.
Overall, the authors concluded, “Associations between gut microbiota composition, levels of cytokines, and inflammatory markers in patients with COVID-19 suggest that the gut microbiome is involved in the magnitude of COVID-19 severity, possibly via modulating host immune responses.”
Reacting to the study, a Public Health Physician and Executive Secretary, Nigerian Academy of Science, Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, said the human diet goes a long way to determine the state of gut bacteria.
Speaking with PUNCH Healthwise, Odubanjo said in general, the whole digestive tract of a person, from the mouth down to the large intestine, are lined with bacteria or microorganisms known as the normal commensal (organism that uses food supplied in the internal or the external environment of the host, without establishing a close association with the host).
The physician explained that they are all there to help digest and ensure that the digestive system works as it should.
“In diseases also, sometimes, you find what you shouldn’t find, or more of something than the other.
“And then in certain diseases now, you can particularly tie them to whether present at all or present in excess, or absence of certain of these bacteria.
“For instance, for some time, peptic ulcer disease was being treated with acidic substances or effort was made to reduce it. But after a while, someone discovered that there is a bacteria there, which if found, is one of the things that causes the ulcer.
“So the treatment of ulcer started to include antibiotics.
“That is the type of studies we also noticed with COVID, that the state of the gut when someone contracts the virus will determine the kind of impact the disease will have.
“This is because, sometimes, the normal commensal will help you to actually fight the disease.
Dr. Odubanjo admitted coming across the study, but noted that one of the first steps in science is that usually, when something is scientifically true, it is replicable, which means that other people can carry out the same study and still get the same result.
“So what the researchers have done and from where it was carried out, they can see the physical relationship between gut bacteria and the severity of diseases that people suffer when they get infected with COVID-19.
“And now, what will be expected is that others in other parts of the world will replicate the study to say, we found the same thing, or no, we didn’t, or that it is different for America or Nigeria.
“Or yes, it is the same thing for us, and which will further strengthen what you have, and it’s not dependent on the genetic makeup of the people or anything like that,” he said.
In the same vein, Dr. Zi Madu, a physician, said gut bacteria could determine the severity of an individual’s ailment by modulating host immune responses
She noted that analysis on most blood samples showed that gut imbalance found in most critically ill patients were associated with raised blood levels of some of the molecules that mediate inflammation.
“This suggests that the gut microbiome might influence the immune system response to infection and potentially affect disease severity and outcome,” the physician added.
Dr. Madu further noted that gut bacteria aid in controlling digestion and are beneficial to the immune system, but that when there is an imbalance between the healthy and unhealthy microbes, it spikes high cholesterol level and other disorders that include excess weight gain, hyperglycaemia and even cancer.
She noted that importantly, “Gut bacteria is determined partly by a mother’s microbiota, the environment one is exposed to at birth and partly from diet and lifestyle.
“These bacteria live throughout the body, but the ones in your gut may have the biggest impact on your well-being.
“However, gut bacteria can be potentially harmful when the ecosystem undergoes abnormal changes,” she warned.
Experts warn that bacteria in the gut can become unbalanced and that this can occur as a result of taking antibiotics or eating a diet of highly processed food.
While the body can correct the imbalance without treatment in many cases, experts say that if symptoms become more serious, you’ll need to see your doctor for diagnosis.
Part of the things that can lead to imbalance in gut bacteria [also called dysbiosis] is a dietary change that involves increased intake of protein, sugar, or food additives.
“Accidental chemical consumption, such as lingering pesticides on unwashed fruits, and drinking two or more alcoholic beverages per day.
“New medications, such as antibiotics, that affect your gut flora; poor dental hygiene, which allows bacteria to grow out of balance in your mouth.
“High levels of stress or anxiety, which can weaken your immune system, and unprotected sex, which can expose you to harmful bacteria” are all part of the reasons, online portal, Healthline, stated
Meanwhile, WebMD explained that in many of the sickest patients with COVID-19, their blood is teeming with high levels of cytokines, and that cytokine storms are known to happen in autoimmune diseases like juvenile arthritis.
“They also occur during certain kinds of cancer treatment, and can be triggered by infections, like the flu.
“One study of patients who died of H1N1 influenza, for example, found that 81 per cent had features of a cytokine storm,” WebMD revealed.
Meanwhile, authors of the research urged doctors to exercise caution if they decide to use antibiotics to treat COVID-19 patients.
“It is still possible that a higher prevalence of antibiotic administration in severe and critical patients could worsen inflammation.
“The antibiotics are unlikely to be associated with improved patient outcomes assuming no bacterial coinfections but, in contrast, could exacerbate and prolong gut microbiota dysbiosis in patients with COVID-19.
“In addition to the gut microbiome contributing to worse COVID-19 symptoms, it might play a role in the development of long COVID.”
On the type of diet that can promote good gut health, Dr. Odubanjo said that generally, people should eat a balanced diet.
He said, “When eating patterns are good and of course this will include fruits and fibre, vegetables and a balance of other nutrients.
“But again, we must also realise that one of the problems we are having is that diet is changing a lot.
“Maybe because of modernisation and globalisation, and even the fact that sometimes, people are busy and now go more for fast foods and are on the go.
“However, they are damaging their health by what they eat and not eating.”
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