Rat Microbiomes and Metabolites; a Way to Learn About the Human Stress Response?

Stress, Development, and the Microbiome  

Stress, the sort that persists and comes from sources beyond our control, can be detrimental to our health,  and even more so to the young (Luna R. et al. 2015). When outside sources of stress are present from a young age, normal development and the adult stress response is impacted in a way that makes healthy coping with stress more difficult throughout life (McEwen et al. 2011) (Eliand L. et al. 2013). Environmental stressors can not only cause developmental changes and impact overall health but can also cause changes to a person’s microbiome or the sum of microbes that coexist with an individual. Which could in-turn alter the sort of metabolites a person secretes (Verbeke K et al. 2015).  

Sprague Dawley rat from Charles River Laboratories Source: crivier.com
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Mental to Dental Connection


Mental health diseases like depression and anxiety have plagued humans presumably since we achieved sentience, and lately it seems like the mental health crisis in America is getting worse and worse. Everyone blames this rise on something different; social media, the pandemic, tumultuous politics, or just the dramatics of younger generations. No matter where the blame is placed, statistics show that the rise in the number of diagnoses is real. Almost all mental health diseases show growth, but anxiety and depression have skyrocketed (ADAA). Even before the COVID 19 pandemic, anxiety was at an all time high, as shown in the figure below. 

 Fig. 1: These graphs show the number of people diagnosed with anxiety in 1990 (left) and 2017 (right). The United States shows a drastic increase. Darker areas indicate higher numbers of anxiety diagnoses. Image sourced from Our World in Data.
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Athletes Have Unique Gut Microbial Communities


People may be familiar with products that claim to impact gut health via probiotics and prebiotics, like kombucha and supplements. Prebiotics are plant fibers that encourage growth of beneficial gut bacteria, while probiotics are usually live bacteria that are associated with good gut health (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021). Diversity comes up often in discussions about gut microbes. Diversity refers to the amount of different species present in a sample, and more diverse samples contain a wider range of microbes. We know that a less diverse community of gut microbes is associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (Cénit et al., 2014) and obesity (Turnbaugh et al., 2008). However, relatively little is known about how the performance of endurance exercise might impact the microbes living within the gut. 

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Gutsy Irish Cricket Players Remarkably Transformed by Their Travels


International travel is part of modern life, your life. Whether that is visiting family in Europe, business trips to Asia, or a dream vacation to the tropics, these all have something in common. The microbes and germs in these places are different and not what your body is used to at home. 

Your body is covered, inside and out, with little microbes that influence your health both mentally and physically (Beaumont et al. 2018. Hathaway et al. 2021). These symbionts (organisms that coexist and interact closely with another organism) are not the same for every person, especially at a global scale. Recent advancements in global sampling of microorganisms has shown that novel and unknown microbes are not only common in the cities of the world but often differ based on the climate, country, and various other environmental factors. Consequently, when a person travels to a new part of the globe, they are exposed to microbes that their bodies may never have seen before and contact with microbes like these can lead to some uncomfortable conditions (Danko et al. 2021).  

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The Future of Predicting Cancer Could Involve Microbes


Colorectal Cancer (CRC) makes up a large proportion of cancer in the United States. CRC occurs in two locations, the colon and rectum. It is the 3rd most diagnosed type of cancer in the U.S., and in 2021 it is estimated there will be just over 100,000 cases of colon cancer and around 45,000 cases of rectal cancer leading to more than 50,000 deaths (American Cancer Society, 2021).

Colorectal cancer causes the third most cancer-related deaths among men and women separately, and if you combine into one population it causes the second most. The actual death rate of CRC has decreased in the last couple of decades due to increase in effectiveness and quantity of screenings (e.g. colonoscopy) which look for signs of CRC, including polyps (small clump of cells that can be cancerous) located in the rectum/colon (Stewart and Carter-Templeton, 2017). Even with the ability to screen and look for physical changes in the colon/rectum, many people still die from CRC and it is a major problem facing the field of oncology and medicine in general.

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Are Your Microbes Making You Anxious?


Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, with more diagnoses and higher disability ratings (Spitchak, 2020). Mental health disorders like this have been linked to inflammation in the gut, as the immune system is activated by stress (Spitchak, 2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and anxiety-reducing medications like benzodiazepines are the current gold standard for managing long-term chronic stress and anxiety, as well as short-term needs like panic or anxiety attacks (Ballenger, 2000). These methods do help, but some people have drug-resistant depression, and others simply prefer a greater variety of options to manage their symptoms. Getting outside more has long been accepted as a mental health boost, both from the calming peaceful environment to the vitamin D exposure, to the clean air, and even the soil microbes (Asprey, 2021). A less conventional option than a simple walk may exist and appears to be emerging after 16 plus years of research by Chris Lowry, who has been working with the soil bacterium M. vaccae since the early 2000s.

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The way to one’s heart is through their stomach


Over the pasting years, atherosclerosis continues to be the number one killer in the United States (Heart disease facts 2021). This chronic inflammatory disorder is the foundation of heart disease (CVD) and happens when dietary cholesterol builds up in our arteries. With the accumulation of cholesterol comes arterial wall damage and the prevention of oxygen-rich blood circulating smoothly throughout the body. Fatty streaks then progress into advanced lesions followed by strokes, heart attacks, and death.

There have been several suggestions to decrease the illness and mortality of CVD. Statins have been prescribed to patients to reduce the production of cholesterol. Alternatively, stents have been surgically inserted in patients to keep blood flowing through narrowed arteries. Yet, the mortality rate from CVD continues to rise. Researchers propose to tackle this issue at a different angle: the gut microbiome. Does your gut health play a role in promoting CVD? You bet it does. Previous studies have suggested that the excessive consumption of animal products along with their interactions with the gut microbiome can play a substantial role in the progression of CVD (Witkowski et al., 2020).

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Are Pet Owners’ Microbiome Unique?

A Brief Background: 

Microbes found in our body and gut are responsible for many different functions of everyday life. Specifically, the human microbiome has prominent influences on health and disease (Kates et al., 2020). Have you ever questioned what can contribute to changes in our microbiome? The microbiome is defined as the community of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi in a specific environment (Ursell et al., 2012). Although microbial changes are being considered in diet trends, probiotics, and environmental factors, pet ownership is often overlooked. Today, approximately 67% of U.S. households own a pet (APPA, 2021). Pet ownership brings us to the question, how may our microbiomes be impacted by pets living in our households? Many cats and dogs have similar microbiota compared to humans (Honneffer et al., 2014). Human-pet relationships can bring to light many pros and cons within our health. Many animals, especially those that roam outside, tend to bring in bacteria from the environment. This bacteria can then be easily transmitted (Resnick, 2012) to those living in the house, whether it’s via furniture, snuggling with your pet, or even something we consider harmless, like kissing your pet. Not only that, but bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridia, and Campylobacter are transmitted via pets and cause severe intestinal diseases for humans. 

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1 Year, 6 Humans, Billions of Microbes


Do you think humans could be a multi-planetary species? What would need to happen to make that dream a reality? These questions have spurred scientific researchers to develop projects that explore logistics of human survival in outer space, especially in an isolated and confined environment (ICE) over time. One such project is the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS). This is a NASA and University of Hawaii funded simulation that is set up to imitate a base camp on Mars or the Moon. Several crewed missions have been run at this “base camp” – the longest, Mission IV, had six crew members live there for a year. Mission IV included several scientific experiments amongst different disciplines such as psychology, botany, physiology and microbiology.

Photograph by HI-SEAS Mission IV members Christiane Heinicke and Sheyna Gifford, 2015
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Sleepless Nights, on the Relationship between Insomnia and the Gut Microbiome


Sleep disorders can have a major impact on health, and when sleep cycles are disturbed this can increase the risk of additional disorders such as cardiovascular diseases or obesity. ‘Sleep disorder’ is a vast term that can be applied to anything from sleep quality to length of time spent asleep, and can include a variety of disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and predominantly insomnia. Insomnia is a disorder where individuals have trouble falling asleep, or staying awake and also focuses on quality of sleep. Insomnia doesn’t stem from a single source in the human body. It has many unknown factors contributing to its condition. So, one of the best ways to move forward in helping treat insomnia is by looking at the various aspects of the body that contribute to it, starting with the human microbiome. 

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