Gut Bomb: Bacteria Help Body Heal After Radiation Exposure

A new study from North Carolina published in Science found that certain bacteria in the gut can protect the body from radiation damage. The researchers, from University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, collaborated with colleagues from Duke University, Memorial Sloan Kettering and Weill Cornell Medical College on the results.

Exposure to radiation can damage bodily tissues. The researchers found that when they exposed mice to potentially lethal doses of radiation, the mice with high levels of Lachnospiraceae and Enterococcaceae bacteria in their gut were protected. The bacteria helped blood cells regenerate and helped repair the damaged gastrointestinal tract. Mice without a lot of these bacteria were not protected.

The mice given Lachnospiraceae still got the benefits of cancer radiotherapy, even though the bacteria protected against the radiation in other ways. A similar thing could be true for human cancer patients who get radiation for cancer.

Radiation exposure can cause gastrointestinal side effects. In the study, among leukemia patients being treated with radiation, those who had only mild gastrointestinal side effects (rather than prolonged diarrhea) were found to have high levels of Lachnospiraceae and Enterococcaceae. Presence of the two kinds of bacteria helped increase levels of the metabolites propionate and tryptophan, which protect against radiation. The metabolites decrease damage to stem cell production in the bone marrow, help with gastrointestinal problems and reduce DNA damage.

Said corresponding author Jenny P.Y. Ting, PhD, William Rand Kenan Professor of Genetics at the UNC School of Medicine:

“Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor is the only drug that has been approved by the FDA as an effective countermeasure for high-dose radiation exposure, but it is expensive and has potential adverse side-effects. However, bacteria that we can cultivate, and especially metabolites that are relatively inexpensive and already elements in the food we eat, may be a good alternative.”

Both propionate and tryptophan can be purchased as health supplements in some countries. The researchers next plan to study whether treatment with these metabolites helps patients who are undergoing radiation.

Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.

Add Comment