person holding their stomach in pain, calm chronic diarrhea, IBS, low FODMAP diet

Recent research has generated intense interest in the bacterial ecology of the human digestive tract. The ability to analyze the collected DNA of gut denizens has allowed scientists to recognize how complex this microbiome can be.

In most cases, complexity is a good thing; various beneficial or at least neutral microbes can keep the more harmful ones from wreaking havoc. When the gut flora get wiped out, for example by antibiotics, less salutary species such as Clostridium difficile can take over and make life miserable. Some people have found that the best way to fight off such an infection is by re-introducing normal microbes through fecal transplantation.

Changes in the microbiome have been liked to a range of health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, allergy and even obesity. Inflammatory bowel disease seems to be associated with reduced diversity in the bacteria of the gut.

Now scientists have found evidence that viruses also play a role. A study of patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis turned up DNA from previously unknown viruses that will warrant more research. Because some of these viruses are bacteriophages that attack bacteria, they might be responsible for the decreased diversity of bacteria in the colon in these conditions. It is unknown at this point how such viruses might colonize the digestive tract or how they could possibly be brought under control.

[Cell, Jan. 29, 2015]

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  1. Angela

    does anyone know what causes irritable bowel? I am on Xifaxon for the diarrhea. This is very embarrsing and the gastroenterologists don’t know much about it. I just started eating Archway coconut cookies from someone that gave me that advice.

  2. AJW

    I’d like to know more about kefir and whether it colonizes in the gut or does one have to keep taking it for the benefits. Some say it should be taken for only 6 months. Others are on it for years. Also any comments re water kefir vs. milk kefir?

  3. jas
    New York

    Could People’s Pharmacy clarify the term “previously unknown viruses” in the above article? Were researchers unable to classify or identify these viruses? This is a fascinating find for those of us who suffer from IBS-like symptoms.

    • The People's Pharmacy

      JAS, the viruses were identified through their genetic material. That did not correspond to the genetic code for known viruses, but followed the pattern for viruses in general. So at this point, the viruses found are probably still unclassified.

  4. kvs

    does anyone have positive benefits of drinking Kefir for intestional flora?

    • richard

      I have had IBS for decades, it came on suddenly after drinking a glass of whole milk, which I considered to be milk intolerance, so I’ve avoided milk ever since but have made Greek yogurt a daily part of my diet. But lately I developed incredible gas and bloating. This got so bad I had to get up in the middle of the night to release. I then started making yogurt and immediately and ever since (one month) no more gas and bowels have tightened up considerably.

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