Can We Upgrade Our Gut Bacteria to Help Fight Disease?

bacteriaBetter, stronger, faster. Programming our gut bacteria to detect the early warning signs of disease and help keep us healthy may sound like science fiction, but researchers have already begun developing and testing the new technology—and the results look promising.

Building upon data from a previous study involving E. coli bacteria, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently created a genetically modified version of common type of bacteria found in the human gut called Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. They then tested the modified bacteria on mice.

The upgraded B. thetaiotaomicron bacteria were equipped with microscopic circuits and sensors, as well as a “genetic memory” to help them identify DNA patterns and send a signal when they encounter abnormalities such as inflammation or bleeding. Not only did the alterations allow the bacteria to function as a possible disease detector, but they also helped protect them from being killed by antimicrobial molecules in the gut.

Using food as a control method, the research team was able to activate certain genes within the bacteria and modify their response to their environment based on what the mice were fed. Their hope is that similar modified bacteria may one day be used to help detect and possibly alter the genes involved with certain diseases and conditions (including obesity) to ultimately improve treatment and health outcomes.

Knowing that each individual has a unique microbiome and this new technology may not be a “one size fits all” solution, researchers have already planned additional research to analyze how such modified bacteria may function in different environments.

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Omega-3 Supports Heart Health in Seniors

fish-oil-pills-heartHeart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, accountable for 1 in 4 deaths every year. The good news is that we can support heart health by making smarter choices about what we eat and how we live—and one of those choices may be adding more Omega-3 to our diet, say scientists from Pennsylvania State University.

In a small study involving a dozen seniors between 60 and 80 years of age, researchers found that daily supplementation with Omega-3 EPA and DHA may improve cardiovascular function in healthy older adults. Specifically, the increased Omega-3 consumption had a positive effect on arterial stiffness.

As we get older, heart health begins to decline as part of the normal aging process. That decline may result in a hardening or stiffening of the arteries over time, even in people who adhere to a healthy lifestyle. When arteries stiffen, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through them, which can lead to bigger problems later on.

After just three months of taking two Omega-3 supplements twice daily (a total of 4,000 mg each day), participants in the study experienced a notable reduction in arterial stiffness, suggesting that consuming more Omega-3 may promote healthy cardiovascular function as we age.

“These findings provide support for the concept that increased Omega-3 intake may be an efficacious therapy in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in aging humans through effects on central arterial stiffness,” the study authors wrote, pointing out that the effects occurred in a relatively short period of time.

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