In the near future, you might be headed to the doctor for a prescription of ... bacteria.
Though bacteria carry the negative stigma of being associated with infections, not all bacteria are harmful — in fact, not having enough bacteria can actually cause problems.
Lately, scientists and health companies have been exploring how to improve the bacteria living all around us.
Here are some of the ways people are hoping to use microbes to improve our bodies and our lives, including tackling antibiotic resistance or treating acne:
To keep us clean
We didn't always shower every day, and some scientists think we still don't need to. Instead, some say, we should strive to maintain a healthy mix of odor-emitting and odor-eating bacteria to keep ourselves smelling fresh and clean while keeping our skin moist. As my colleague Tanya Lewis learned by using a product called Mother Dirt, it's somewhat feasible to spray bacteria on your body to stay "clean."
To keep our breath fresh
Our mouths can dry out while we sleep, which can kill off some good bacteria and cause gas-emitting bacteria to thrive. That's why you sometimes wake up with a putrid-smelling mouth. But researchers think a potentially beneficial bacteria strain, Streptococcus salivarius K12, could be put into a lozenge or spray and used as a probiotic to knock out the bad bacteria that cause bad breath.
To clear our skin
Most acne is associated with bacteria that get trapped in pores, where they emit chemicals that attract white blood cells and inflame the skin nearby. Extreme acne is often treated with antibiotics, which wipe out all the bacteria living on your face. According to the National Institutes of Health, researchers are looking into probiotics that could be applied to the skin to get rid of the irritating bacteria while keeping your microbial community healthy.
To stop the superbug menace
One big problem with antibiotics is that while they wipe out bad bacteria, they wipe out the good bacteria too — especially in our gut. And as we create increasingly powerful antibiotics to overcome the increasingly powerful bacteria, their impact on our insides is getting worse. A company called Synthetic Biologics is trying to tackle the superbug problem by breaking down antibiotics before they hit the gut.
The hope is that patients who are being treated for infections with antibiotics will also take another pill that will keep the antibiotics out of the gut. That way, the pill can let the bacteria in your gut blossom and prevent an environment that allows bacteria to get even stronger.
To sooth our tummies, even when we don't eat right
Synthetic Biologics is also working on a different kind of drug that could help people living with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. Ideally, the company's drug will keep the gut from producing so much methane gas, which may be responsible for slowing down digestion.
A 2012 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology Supplements found that manipulating the microbes that produce methane could be a viable way to treat conditions like IBS. By taking a drug called lovastatin, a drug produced by a fungus, the hope is to reduce methane emissions and keep things running smoothly through the intestines.
To help people get to a healthy weight
Synthetic Biologics CEO Jeff Riley thinks there may be some off-label use of the company's IBS drug for weight loss. Since the drug cuts down on methane production, which has been linked with absorbing more calories, Riley says people could lose weight on the drug. Multiple factors are involved in obesity, however, so more research is needed in this area.
Researchers are also investigating the potential of using the gut bacteria of thin people as a way to help treat obesity, though so far it hasn't made it past testing in mice.
To improve our mood
Lately, scientists have noticed a link between the microbes that live in the gut and those that live in the brain, suggesting that all these critters might play a role in our moods. For example, a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii is thought to have an effect on people's behavior — men with it may dress more sloppily, while women who have it may become more sociable.
Some scientists think there might be a way to harness this mood-changing power and use it to treat things like depression and anxiety.
To clean our homes
As much as we love to keep our households germ-free with powerful antibacterials, some people are looking into protecting some of the good bugs that live in our kitchen. Using probiotics, living microorganisms that exist in things like yogurt, companies like P2 Probiotic Power have made a set of cleaners with the intent to fight off harmful bacteria while keeping the good stuff alive.
To treat disease
The probiotic field is crowded — and potentially for good reason. Theories like the hygiene hypothesis suggest that coming into contact with germs at an early age can help the immune system develop and prevent later life conditions like asthma. It's still not certain that coming into contact with more germs is beneficial, but researchers are studying the idea.
Source: Business Insider