Medical science has awakened to the idea that human health and well being are influenced significantly by the microbial communities in and on our bodies (1). The list of disease conditions either influenced or aggravated by our microbial partners is impressive and growing.
Physicians have long understood that disturbing a healthy gastro-intestinal tract microbial community with antibiotic treatments or anti-cancer chemotherapies may create serious disease due to the bacterium Clostridium difficile. Unfortunately, these situations are not always reversible and many patients succumb to this medication-induced illness (2). Instead of switching antibiotics and hoping that resolves the problem, a newer strategy is to reestablish the normal gut flora by inoculating patients with small fecal samples acquired from healthy donors (3). Fecal transplants appear to be more effective at controlling or curing Clostridium difficile disease than the traditional methods (1, 2, 3).
Realizing our microbial partners influence human health has sparked intense efforts to uncover the full range of physiologic processes impacted and the biochemical mechanisms involved. Experimental evidence now suggests microbial manipulations influence brain function and complex behaviors (1). Clearly, if confirmed, these findings have important implications for medical practice and far-sighted scientists are already seeking ways to exploit the new findings.
One of the many rewards of scientific research is having multiple factors converge to enable an unforeseen discovery. Advances in DNA sequencing technology combined with culture-independent methods to analyze microbial ecology have revealed the complex and dynamic mini-Universe that is the human microbiome (4). Add in a dash of genomics, a big dollop of hypotheses along with a heaping helping of invited inferences and some scientific entrepreneurs might have cooked up the recipe for the high-tech, 21st century version of Gatorade (5). Trying to comprehend what makes elite athletes elite, top scientists envision marketing ingestible probiotic concoctions to give the rest of us the gut bacteria of champions (6). Whether this plan will create athletic competition gold medal winners is unclear, but the financial reward potential is Olympic size (6).
However, these enterprising scientists still have a long race to the finish line. The advertising campaign may pose an exceptionally high hurdle. Naming this stuff will be tricky; imagine test marketing consumer enthusiasm for brands like ‘Ingestional Fortitude’ or ‘Stoolade’ or trying to anticipate where social media will go with this concept.
Perhaps performance enhancing probiotics will be on sale soon. No matter how much of that crap I might choke down, I am convinced I will never become a better athlete. Is it in you? I’m pretty sure it will never be in me.
(1) D. Kohn. 2015. When Gut Bacteria Change Brain Function. The Atlantic, 24 June 2015. dld.bz/fAAwy
(2) G. Emanuel. 2017. Why a Central Square Stool Bank is Paying $40 per Poop Donation. WGBH News, 13 April 2017. news.wgbh.org/2017/04/13/sci…
(3) K. Rao and V. B. Young. 2015. Fecal Microbiota Transplantation for the Management of Clostridium difficile Infection. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America 29(1):109-122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4328137/
(4) L. K. Ursell et al. 2012. Defining the Human Microbiome. Nutrition Review 70(Suppl 1):S38-S44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/
(5) Gatorade – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gatorade
(6) T. McNally. 2017. Would You Drink a Probiotic with the Gut Bacteria of Elite Athletes? The Huffington Post, 2 April 2017. huffingtonpost.com/entry/would-yo…