While the world of microbiome research has been exploding for some time (thankfully not literally- that would involve fresh poop flying everywhere), the gut virome approaches on the horizon with new discoveries of unknown viruses in baby poop. Whereas most gut related bacteria have been identified in recent years, this study found over 200 families of previously unknown viruses while studying the stools of 1 year old. One would never guess to find this many treasures of science in something do mundane as dirty diapers. The authors of this paper hope to find modifiable connections between these viruses and future illnesses, similarly to the ongoing research with our GI tract’s bacterial residents.
Before you get too worried about the 10,000 viral species belonging to over 200 different viral families in your baby’s colon, rest in knowing that the majority of these viruses only attack bacteria. These viruses are ‘bacteriophages’ and won’t directly infect any human cells. Their genetic instructions only allow entrance and multiplication in nearby bacteria, resulting in either destruction of the bacteria or a type of latency in which the virus multiplies along with the bacteria’s reproduction without killing the bacteria. Sometimes, this second process even gives the bacteria extra capabilities like digesting various types of nutrients or producing helpful enzymes.
Even with the handful of viruses which do infect humans, they seem to assist in training our immune systems similar to good bacteria in our colons. With continuous low grade viral infections, our immune system stays tuned up ready for more dangerous intruders which may come along later. They may also fend off dangerous bacteria and equip good bacteria for synergistic living in their human hosts.
While all of this research is extremely exciting, there is no reason to go out and buy a direct-to-consumer stool virome test nor ask your doctor for one anytime soon. The field is in its infancy (pun intended); while the authors surmise that some of these viruses in their interactions with our early life microbiomes could influence future disease development, knowledge of how to modulate these viruses for prevention or therapy is far beyond the horizon of what we know for now. First, researchers need to determine where these viruses come from and how they get into a baby’s gut after birth. Then they must gather data on which viruses do what. Only then can they start considering how to alter these viruses for a specific purpose.
Until then, focus on what we do know. Vaginal births convey significant benefits to baby’s future colonic microbiome over cesarean sections. When that option is not available, methods to inoculate the baby with mom’s microbiome can substitute. From that point in time, breastfeeding and avoiding/limiting antibiotics in mom and baby contribute further to future gut health. When antibiotics are necessary, probiotics and prebiotics assist in restoring optimal gut health post antibiotic therapy. Teaching your children to eat a low-inflammatory balanced diet with adequate fiber then sets them up for a life of good nutrition habits with less risk of GI chronic illness. These practices are foundations for healthier more abundant gut health until we have more information on the 10,000 or more viruses in baby poop.
Shiraz A. Shah, Ling Deng, Jonathan Thorsen, Anders G. Pedersen, Moïra B. Dion, Josué L. Castro-Mejía, Ronalds Silins, Fie O. Romme, Romain Sausset, Leon E. Jessen, Eric Olo Ndela, Mathis Hjelmsø, Morten A. Rasmussen, Tamsin A. Redgwell, Cristina Leal Rodríguez, Gisle Vestergaard, Yichang Zhang, Bo Chawes, Klaus Bønnelykke, Søren J. Sørensen, Hans Bisgaard, Francois Enault, Jakob Stokholm, Sylvain Moineau, Marie-Agnès Petit, Dennis S. Nielsen. Expanding known viral diversity in the healthy infant gut. Nature Microbiology, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41564-023-01345-7
Thanks to Science Daily:
University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Science. “Your baby’s gut is crawling with unknown viruses.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230411105857.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.