Variety is the spice of Life!

Dr Charles Akle

How important is the Gut in immunity?

The simple answer is that it is essential. The immune system does not work in isolation, any more than the brain can work without information from receptors and nerves all over the body. In a way, the gut is like a brain for the immune system in that it detects immune signals and processes them and then integrates with the rest of the body, but especially the brain. Hence the term, Gut/Brain axis. These links are both by nerve links, especially the vagus nerve, but also through blood borne signals that also send information to the rest of the body – think of a computer talking by LAN and by Wi-Fi!

The gut is a major site of interaction with our environment just like the skin, but perhaps more so because it is full of bacteria that are essential for its proper function. This is called our Microbiome, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Animal models whose gut is completely sterile do very badly and fail to thrive even if the diet is perfect from a nutritional point of view. Without bacteria to regulate the system, the creatures will never do well.

We also know that in humans, patients on chemotherapy and especially immunotherapy do far better when they have a “good” microbiome. The indiscriminate use of powerful antibiotics play havoc with the gut flora and these patients do badly unless the balance is restored. 

Are these bacteria harmful?

We each carry trillions of bacteria in our gut and on our skin. It used to be said we have ten times more bacteria than we have our own cells, but the ratio is more like one to one. Even so, it is a huge number, and most are in the faeces so the ratio will change every time you go to the toilet! The vast majority are harmless and even the potentially harmful ones tend to be kept at bay by the gut’s wonderful immune defences.

It is no surprise that from time to time a more aggressive organism (and it can be a virus, not just a bacterium) gets through and causes trouble. Even then, the attack is usually self-limiting and the immune system in the body kicks in to deal with the problem. The more friendly bacteria there are, the better are the chances of avoiding a troublesome attack.

Which bacteria are the ones that best help the microbiome?

There are many organisms that are thought to be helpful and the best known are the lactobacilli found usually in yoghourt. There are hundreds of different types, however, and the patterns vary enormously from person to person as well as from country to country. Some people advocate a pattern that mirrors indigenous people in certain parts of Brazil or Africa, but the fact is that it is diversity and not individual organisms that matter.

What do clinical trials show for the effects on the brain of Probiotics and the microbiome?

The sheer diversity that is needed makes comparison very difficult when only one bacterium is being studied. Trials need to compare apples with apples and a fruit salad makes for an impossible task! This is why faecal transplant studies have been more consistent and generally show benefit. 

There are many studies that confirm the relationship between the gut microbiome and the brain for conditions such as anxiety and depression, stress, and similar mental issues.  Many show benefits but there are many confounders in that patients have diverse lifestyles and diet, smoking, exercise, and environment all affect the outcomes. The big message is that there is a benefit, but it is easier to see when there is a diverse bacterial population rather than one specific organism.

Where do Mycolicibacteria fit into this and especially Au+?

It is important to know that most gut bacteria are able to colonise the gut and live there as commensals – this means they are friendly and not harmful but co-exist with us for mutual benefit. Mycolicibacteria do not colonise the gut but pass through unchanged and are discharged so they need to be replenished on a daily basis. This is why they are not usually seen on microbial analysis of faeces as the numbers are so small and so difficult to detect.

We get exposure to these bacteria from soil and water in our environment and modern city living with its emphasis on concrete and sterility have alternated this relationship. We want to try and restore this relationship by introducing aurum into our daily intake.

Is M aurum safe?

The beauty of our M aurum is that it is heat killed so perfectly safe, even though no human infection occurs, and it triggers the desired responses just as well. Great care needs to be taken as the mycobacterial family includes bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy, and this is why you should not use just any mycobacterium. The mycolicibacter class are all safe and aurum is especially so and very special. 

How does it affect the microbiome?

M aurum acts as a kind of immune adjuvant. These adjuvants are vital in vaccines so that a powerful immune response is triggered, and many vaccines would not work without them. It helps to explain the difficulty in creating vaccines against certain viruses and bacteria as well as cancer cells. Think of them as an honest broker.

You need an agent to coordinate the myriad of different bacteria and signals they induce in the gut.  The gut is incredibly sophisticated and has specialised cells for all sorts of critically important pathways. One involves a cell called the Microfold or “M” cell. These specifically detect individual bacteria which is why you only need tiny amounts. Once detected, these cells pass on the signal to immune cells in the gut wall, called dendritic cells. These are the gateway cells or border guards of the immune system. They then pass on the information to other immune cells that then pass on to the brain via both regional lymphatic systems as well as nerve signals. It is a wonder of Nature.

We believe these signals are what regulate or tune the immune response to deal with chronic inflammation and this is an important route by which the brain and the gut interact in a beneficial way.

Are there other benefits?

Yes. We believe that inflammation in the gut leads to damage and possibly cancer of the bowel – now one of the commonest cancers in Western society. Worse still, these cancers are being seen more commonly in younger age groups and may well be a reflection of modern living and diet. There are experimental data to show that mycolicibacter can reduce the risk of bowel inflammation over and above the effect on the brain. This can translate into a reduction in the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, given that chronic inflammation is a powerful inducer of malignant change, as is seen in chronic ulcerative colitis for example.

The key messages about the microbiome

  • It is vitally important for healthy living.
  • It is diversity rather than individual organisms that works best.
  • It needs to be “farmed” and looked after on a regular basis.
  • It needs an adjuvant to keep it in tune and help the interaction with the immune system – this is why M aurum is so important.
  • It needs to be integrated with other lifestyle changes such as taking regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding toxins, building a good relationship with the natural environment.