There is a theory saying that humans can spread chronic conditions via unhealthy microbes in our guts. The most common noncommunicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.
Gathered data on noncommunicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as others, seems to indicate that some noncommunicable conditions that were once proved non-transmissible could potentially spread in forms of stomach bugs according to Brett Finlay, a Canadian microbiologist, and his team. Their hypothesis is published in a paper in the journal Science.
“It really leads to a rather almost heretical postulate — that noncommunicable diseases, which basically means non-infectious diseases, might actually be communicable,” said Finlay, a renowned microbiome researcher at the University of British Columbia. “And, given that 70 percent of the people in the world die of what we call noncommunicable diseases, it gives you a whole different way of looking at these things.”
Although it is just a hypothesis at the moment, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Finlay said. “And there’s an awful lot of smoke.” This hypothesis has to be studied in depth to conclude whether it is true or not and provide the public with the appropriate actions. Writing in Science, he and fellow members of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research build a case against the current beliefs regarding chronic diseases.
Diseases Believed to Be Non-Contagious Could Spread Through Gut Bacteria
Let’s look at the differences between healthy people and people with chronic diseases. Compared to healthy people, people with chronic diseases tend to have a microbial imbalance or maladaptation or different gut microbiota than ordinary people.
Experts observed how, when the feces from people with diverse noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and a heart condition, are moved in healthy, germ-free mice (rodents brought up in ultra-sterile environments), the rodents develop the same conditions.
“Third, your microbes are more similar to the person you’re living with than the genetically related twin living on the other side of the world,” said Finlay.
Researchers have analyzed the gut and mouth bacteria from nearly 300 villagers living in the Fiji Islands in a study published last March. They discovered that the occupants living in the same house, and married couples, in particular, had strains in their gut microbiota that look almost the same.
“You could basically figure out who was married to who based on the microbes,” said Finlay, “which indicates that you can spread your microbes with the people you cohabitate with or are in close contact with.”
In terms of technicalities, obesity is not part of chronic conditions; however, it is the principal risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes “and pretty much every noncommunicable disease you can list,” Finlay said. There is also existing evidence that it has a microbial component. Not to say that the evidence keeps increasing as various studies in mice have discovered that thin mice can be made fat, and vice versa, with fecal transplants between obese and skinny mice.
Diabetes might also be spread through microbes, as it looks like it has an infectious component too. “India has very low rates of IBD. They move to Canada, U.S. or Britain and they have some of the highest ethnic rates we see, period,” Finlay said. “And so that’s not genetics. It could be they are acquiring microbes from the developed countries that make you much more prone to diseases.”
There is a strong association with gut bugs that encode for a particular enzyme produced when the gut bacteria digest choline, which is abundant in red meat with cardiovascular disease. The liver then converts it into something called TMAO, or trimethylamine N-oxide, “which is basically what causes atherosclerosis,” resulting in strokes and heart attacks, Finlay said.
In conclusion, Finlay is not that noncommunicable diseases are 100% infectious as “It’s going to vary for different diseases.” Is there a higher risk of obesity for people with an obese friend or an obese spouse?
If yes, what could be the reason: swapping gut bacteria, or sharing lifestyle habits? “I’m sure there will be naysayers, and the hardest part is uncoupling environmental factors from microbial changes,” Finlay said. However, “we need to recognize that microbes could be a contributing factor,” he added, “which is a whole new way of looking at these diseases in terms of health policy and how we control them.”
On a lighter note, “You can’t change your genes, but you can easily change your microbes,” Finlay said. “Any environmental change results in a microbial change,” through diet, exercise, probiotics, perhaps one day via fecal transfers, or even moving to another country. “Everything we touch, feel, see or do is screened through this thin veneer of microbes in and on us.”