Being in the hospital is sometimes necessary because of an injury or illness. However, studies have shown that even short-term stays may have a negative impact on our health, and it often has to do with how the hospital environment impacts our gut bacteria.
After collecting and analyzing fecal, oral and skin samples for 115 people in the United States and Canada, researchers have determined that patients admitted to the intensive care unit may suffer a critical loss of beneficial gut microbes in the first few days of admission—which in turn may increase their risk of infection and premature death.
“The results were what we feared them to be. We saw a massive depletion of normal, health-promoting species,” said lead author Dr. Paul Wischmeyer, who pointed to nutritional deficiencies and the use of certain medications as possible causes for the change in gut flora. And it wasn’t just a decline in good bacteria that he and his team noted; disease-promoting bacteria seemed to flourish and in some cases colonize the gut almost entirely.
The more we learn about the trillions of bacteria that reside in the human body—mainly in the gut—the more we realize just how closely connected they are to our overall health. This study and others like it may help experts develop ways to maintain a healthy gut microbiome in the hospital setting and beyond, possibly with the help of probiotics.